MBTA Board of Directors approves plan to implement reduced fares program for riders with low-income

The new program will provide riders who are aged 26-64, non-disabled and have low income with reduced fares of approximately 50 percent off on all MBTA modes.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Board of Directors has approved the agency’s plan to implement a reduced fares program for riders with low-income. The program builds upon the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget that includes $5 million for the MBTA to develop the low-income fares program.  

The new program will provide riders who are aged 26-64, non-disabled and have low income with reduced fares of approximately 50 percent off on all MBTA modes. Program participants will demonstrate eligibility via existing enrollment in programs, with a cutoff of 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or lower).  

The new program applies to Commuter Rail and on the RIDE, the MBTA’s paratransit service, where senior and low-income riders will be eligible for half-price ADA and Premium trips. 

“Expanding low-income fares will help to ensure that our transportation system is more equitable and more affordable, which supports the mission to give everyone greater access to mobility options, especially community members depending on transit,” said Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Secretary and CEO Monica Tibbits-Nutt.  

“This is an important step towards making mass transportation more affordable for those that need it the most and I thank the Board of Directors for their support and approval of the new low-income fare program, especially MassDOT Secretary Tibbits-Nutt for her years of advocacy. I applaud the governor and the legislature for their foresight to include funds in our FY24 budget to enable us to develop this program and we thank the gGovernor for her proposal in the FY25 budget in support of this program, which will benefit so many across all modes,” said MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng. “The MBTA is committed to making meaningful improvements for riders, including making fares more affordable, which will improve quality of life, boost economic mobility and encourage more riders to return to the system.” 

The fare changes will go into effect in summer 2024. The MBTA estimates the cost of the program to be approximately $52-62 million (including administrative costs, operating costs to meet induced demand and fare revenue loss). MBTA notes riders with low income are expected to take 30 percent more trips with a reduced fare, significantly increasing mobility while saving on transportation costs. More than 60,000 riders are expected to qualify for and enroll in the program, which is expected to result in up to 8 million more trips per year. 

The program for riders with low income is a multi-secretariat effort with the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). Existing MBTA reduced fare programs already provide support to students, seniors, riders with disabilities and young people aged 18-25 with low income. The programs provide half-priced fares and passes.  

MBTA will partner with third-party Community-Based Partners to manage in-person customer service and eligibility verification for the new program, includingh providing physical in-person locations where people can receive support with their applications and offering additional support whenever automatic systems are unable to successfully process applications.  

Two additional fare changes include:  

  1. Replacing “Change Tickets” with CharlieCards: As of March 1, 2024, the issuance of paper CharlieTickets with stored value as change (a “Change Ticket”) was phased out, which MBTA notes was due to limitations in the fare collection technology.  
  2. Permanently expanding the $10 Weekend Commuter Rail Pass to include federal holidays: The $10 Weekend Commuter Rail Pass will now include federal holidays. The pass allows for unlimited Commuter Rail trips on all three days of federal holiday weekends. For federal holidays that are observed mid-week, passengers can purchase a $10 Holiday Pass for that day.  

“Riders and workers in our Public Transit Public Good coalition celebrate this milestone in moving forward a low-income fare program at the MBTA. Reduced fares will be transformative for low-income riders throughout the MBTA service area and on all modes of public transit and especially for communities of color facing historical burdens of exclusion and poverty,” said Community Labor United Senior Organizer Ziquelle Smalls. “A low-income fare will advance mobility, equity and opportunity in the Commonwealth. We are so pleased to see the Healey Administration and the MBTA advance this essential policy.” 

“The introduction of a low-income fare program is a huge step toward making the MBTA more affordable and equitable. We know that the MBTA is a lifeline for thousands of people and that this program will make it easier for all people, regardless of age or ability, to get where they need to go,” said LivableStreets Alliance Executive Director Stacy Thompson. “We look forward to working with the MBTA to support the launch of this important initiative.” 

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MBTA board approves Low-Income Fare Program to benefit riders in 170+ communities

Building upon the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s FY24 budget that includes $5 million for the MBTA to develop a low-income fares program, the MBTA  announced that the MBTA Board of Directors has unanimously approved the MBTA’s plan to implement a reduced fares program for riders with low-income. This program, which has been a topic of research and planning by the MBTA and many partners for the last decade, is an exciting improvement for fare equity. In addition to the low-income fare program, the Board also approved two smaller changes.

The new program will provide riders who are aged 26-64, non-disabled, and have low income with reduced fares of approximately 50% off on all MBTA modes. Program participants will demonstrate eligibility via existing enrollment in programs with a cutoff of 200% of the federal poverty level (or lower). This exciting new program also applies on the Commuter Rail, unlocking affordability for residents along those corridors and in the Gateway Cities. On the RIDE, the MBTA’s paratransit service, senior and low-income riders will be eligible for half price ADA and Premium trips.

“Expanding low-income fares will help to ensure that our transportation system is more equitable and more affordable, which supports the mission to give everyone greater access to mobility options, especially community members depending on transit,”said Transportation Secretary and CEO Monica Tibbits-Nutt.

“This is an important step towards making mass transportation more affordable for those that need it the most and I thank the Board of Directors for their support and approval of the new low-income fare program, especially MassDOT Secretary Tibbits-Nutt for her years of advocacy. I applaud the Governor and the Legislature for their foresight to include funds in our FY24 budget to enable us to develop this program, and we thank the Governor for her proposal in the FY25 budget in support of this program, which will benefit so many across all modes,” said MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng. “The MBTA is committed to making meaningful improvements for riders, including making fares more affordable, which will improve quality of life, boost economic mobility, and encourage more riders to return to the system.” 

These fare changes will go into effect in summer 2024.

 The MBTA estimates the cost of the program to be approximately $52-62 million (including administrative costs, operating costs to meet induced demand, and fare revenue loss). According to prior research, riders with low income are expected to take 30% more trips with a reduced fare, significantly increasing mobility while saving on transportation costs. More than 60,000 riders are expected to qualify for and enroll in the program, which is expected to result in up to 8 million more trips per year.

 The program for riders with low income is a multi-secretariat effort with the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). Existing MBTA reduced fare programs already provide support to students, seniors, riders with disabilities, and young people aged 18-25 with low income. These programs provide half-priced fares and passes. 

 To make the program further accessible throughout Massachusetts communities, the MBTA will partner with third-party Community-Based Partners to manage in-person customer service and eligibility verification. These efforts include providing physical in-person locations where people can receive support with their applications and offering additional support whenever automatic systems are unable to successfully process applications.

 Two additional fare changes include:   

·       Replacing “Change Tickets” with CharlieCards: As of March 1, 2024, the issuance of paper CharlieTickets with stored value as change (a “Change Ticket”) was phased out. This is due to limitations in the fare collection technology. Riders are encouraged to load stored value on plastic CharlieCards. 

·       Permanently expanding the $10 Weekend Commuter Rail Pass to include federal holidays: The $10 Weekend Commuter Rail Pass will now include federal holidays. This pass allows for unlimited Commuter Rail trips on all three days of federal holiday weekends. For federal holidays that are observed mid-week, passengers can purchase a $10 Holiday Pass for that day. 

Previous Statements of Support: 

“Riders and workers in our Public Transit Public Good coalition celebrate this milestone in moving forward a low-income fare program at the MBTA. Reduced fares will be transformative for low-income riders throughout the MBTA service area and on all modes of public transit, and especially for communities of color facing historical burdens of exclusion and poverty,” said Community Labor United Senior Organizer Ziquelle Smalls. “A low-income fare will advance mobility, equity, and opportunity in the Commonwealth. We are so pleased to see the Healey Administration and the MBTA advance this essential policy.”

“The introduction of a low-income fare program is a huge step toward making the MBTA more affordable and equitable. We know that the MBTA is a lifeline for thousands of people and that this program will make it easier for all people, regardless of age or ability, to get where they need to go,” said LivableStreets Alliance Executive Director Stacy Thompson. “We look forward to working with the MBTA to support the launch of this important initiative.”

“Frederick Douglas said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and never will.’ We are witnessing the result of demanding fare equity from the powers that be,” said Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition Co-Chair and T Riders Union Former Director Mela Bush. “The low-income fare policy has come at a time of skyrocketing costs on food, housing, etc. Saving $500 a year on transportation for lower-income transit-dependent people can mean so much! For so long, we fought against fare increases for those who could not afford it. Now this! We are excited that this day has finally come, and we appreciate the MBTA for working with riders and rider advocacy groups to bring this to fruition.”

“BCIL strongly supports reduced fares for low-income users of MBTA services, as people with limited resources often have to triage key expenses,” said Boston Center for Independent Living Executive Director Bill Henning. “This initiative will support increased movement by people with disabilities in and around communities in the T’s service area, enhancing a fundamental element of independence and integration.”

“The MBTA’s proposed low income fare program will provide affordable access to a significant number of individuals with disabilities. It is exciting,” said Riders’ Transportation Access Group (RTAG) Executive Board Member and RIDE Subcommittee Co-Chair Elizabeth Dean-Clower.

“We applaud the MBTA, Administration, and Legislature for their work to make a low-income fare program a reality and in particular for its commitment to include individuals who depend on the RIDE,” said Massachusetts Senior Action Council President Rosa Bentley. “The RIDE is a vital part of our public transit system that ensures access and mobility for those unable to use fixed routes. We thank the T for recognizing that public transit without affordability is not accessible. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the community and the T to ensure this exciting program is available to all low-income riders.”

“The MBTA Youth Pass Program is a great opportunity that makes travel throughout the state more accessible to young residents and encourages the use of public transportation, a win-win for the Worcester community and the state as this form of travel is equitable and beneficial for meeting carbon emission goals,” said Liza French with the City of Worcester’s Division of Youth Opportunities. The City of Worcester, one of the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities, joined the MBTA’s Youth Pass program in November 2021, which provided affordable transit access for young people under age 25 with low-income and is the MBTA’s only current income-eligible reduced fare program. The new reduced fares program builds directly from the Youth Pass model and would apply to all residents of Worcester and the other 170+ communities the MBTA serves.

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MBTA approves low-income fare program

The MBTA board on Thursday unanimously approved a low-income fare program, which is expected to roll out later this year.

The board’s vote came after years of study and public hearings, and was buoyed by $5 million from the state budget to get off the ground.

T officials say it will take another two to six months to set up the program, which would include an online application form.

Similar to existing reduced-fare programs for students and seniors, the 50% discount would apply to eligible riders between the ages of 25 and 64. Individuals making up to $29,000 — or up to $60,000 for households of four — would be eligible to sign up for the discount.

The discount would apply to all modes of travel including subways, trolleys, buses and commuter rail. It would also apply to MBTA paratransit customers on the RIDE, cutting the price for ADA trips in half for eligible riders. “Premium” RIDE customers, who use the service for trips with an origin or destination more than three-quarters of a mile away from MBTA bus or subway service, will also benefit from the new fare policy. Language covering premium riders was added by state Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbitts-Nutt.

At today’s hearing, a range of community advocates celebrated the program. Elizabeth Dean-Clower, executive board member on the Riders’ Transportation Access Group and RIDE subcommittee co-chair, said low-income fares would provide affordable access to a significant number of people with disabilities.

Boston Center for Independent Living Executive Director Bill Henning also celebrated the news.

“This initiative will support increased movement by people with disabilities in and around communities in the T’s service area, enhancing a fundamental element of independence and integration,” he said.

Mela Bush, co-chair of the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition and former director of the T Riders Union, said the low-income fare policy is sorely needed given the current economy.

“The low-income fare policy has come at a time of skyrocketing costs on food, housing, etc.,” Bush said. “Saving $500 a year on transportation for lower-income transit-dependent people can mean so much!”

T officials say their research shows that riders with low incomes would be expected to take 30% more trips with a reduced fare, significantly increasing mobility while saving on transportation costs.

More than 60,000 riders are expected to qualify for and enroll in the program, which is expected to result in 7 million more trips per year.

The MBTA estimates the cost of the program to be approximately $52 million to $62 million a year. That price tag includes administrative costs, operating costs to meet increased demand, and fare revenue loss.

Read the full article.

‘We made history’: Massachusetts low-income transit riders could soon see lower fares, similar to other states

The Boston Globe

For low-income riders who rely on public transit, Thursday was a victory years in the making.

The MBTA board of directors voted in favor of offering a reduced fare for adults with low incomes across its entire system, moving advocates to tears andmarking the most significant step toward implementing the long-awaited program. Now, the agency just needs to come up with the cash.

The new system, which could start as early as this summer, would allow adults ages 26-64 who earn no more than about $30,000 annually to purchase half-priced tickets and passes for trips on the subway, bus, commuter rail, ferry, and paratransit service.

For some riders, it could translate into hundreds and even thousands of dollars of annual savings.

Advocates got evenmore than theyexpected on Thursday.Originally, the T planned to keep some trips provided by the T’s paratransit service, The Ride, at full price for people with low incomes.

But at theboard meeting, riders urged T board members to reconsider the agency’s decision to exclude “premium” trips, those that originate or finish more than three-quarters of amile from T bus or subway service. Those trips currently cost $5.60.

After hearing from several advocates, Secretary of Transportation Monica Tibbits-Nutt proposed an amendment to also include the “premium” service in the low-income fare program. The board of directors voted to approve it to a standing ovation from advocates.

“Today, we made history,” said Kathy Paul, first vice president of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council.

The board’s approval and Governor Maura Healey’s funding proposal for the program pending in the Legislature mean it is closer to reality now than ever before. If the Legislature doesn’t approve the additional funding, the T has said it will adjust its operating budget to make the program a reality.

Advocates, who have been pushing for a low-income fare for more than a decade, celebrated the decision. Most large transit agencies in the United States already offer a low-income fare.

“This long overdue low-income fare program will make it easier for people to get around,” said Reggie Ramos, executive director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a public transportation advocacy group. “This will open new opportunities for people who today face barriers to transportation or have to endure structurally impossible trade-offs between transportation and other fundamental needs.”

The T, which is expected to face a budget gap of about$628 million in the next fiscal year, estimates the program will cost at least $23 million in the fiscal year that starts in July with costs increasing to as much as $62 million per year by 2028. Tibbits-Nutt said including “premium” trips on The Ride could increase costs by about $4 million.

Healey is proposing $45 million of new high-earner tax funds for the low-income fare program, but the Legislature has yet to approve a budget for the coming fiscal year. Healey signed a budget last year with $5 million to launch the reduced-fare initiative.

T general manager Phillip Eng said the T has some of those funds left over to help with the launch and is “optimistic” about the Legislature approving the governor’s funding request.

“The T will find a way to balance all of our needs,” he said.

Advocates are hoping this time is for real.At one of the last meetings of the T’s previous oversight board in June 2021, members instructed the T to present proposals for a nine-month, low-income fare pilot program and begin implementing it as soon as July 2022.

That never happened.

The T expects a new low-income policy systemwide will impactaround 62,000 riders on the agency’s bus, train, and ferry service and 28,000 riders on the T’s paratransit service within the coming years.

Some worry, however, that making paratransit service more accessible, without staffing it accordingly, could overwhelm the system.

Michele Stiehler, the T’s manager of paratransit operations, said that if premium trips areincluded in the low-income fare program, the on-time performance of the entire paratransit system could suffer. The Ride has about 22 percent fewer drivers than it needs for current service levels, Stiehler said.

The T is in the process of increasing starting wages for Ride drivers from $18 per hour to $25-$27 per hour, Stiehler said.

Tibbits-Nutt said more needs to be done to improve service on The Ride.

“We have to do better for this population,” she said.

The T board of directors also voted Thursday to approve two other fare changes. Riders will no longer receive change, from paying cash on board, in the form of a paper CharlieTicket on the Green Line, Mattapan Line, and buses. Riders instead will have to load cash onto a CharlieCard. And the T is now extending its $10 commuter rail weekend pass to include federal holidays that create three-day weekends.

Read the full article.

MBTA Board Approves New Half-Priced Fare for Low-Income Riders

On Thursday, the MBTA Board of Directors voted unanimously to implement a new low-income fare structure, which could become available to riders later this spring or summer.

With the board’s approval, the T’s management has the go-ahead to start offering half-priced fares on most MBTA services – including all The RIDE paratransit services – for riders who verify that their earnings are lower than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

In the Boston region, that eligibility income level would be $29,160 for a single-person household, or $60,000 for a household of four.

A low-income fare has been a priority for transit justice advocates for years.

Dozens of grassroots advocates from community organizations like Greenroots in Chelsea and Massachusetts Senior Action Council packed the board room at 10 Park Plaza for Thursday’s board meeting.

‘Premium’ paratransit rides included with last-minute vote

One last-minute sticking point leading into Thursday’s board meeting concerned higher-cost The RIDE paratransit trips in the edges of the MBTA service area.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the T is required to provide The RIDE paratransit rides for eligible riders who are making trips within 0.75 miles of a MBTA bus or train service.

But the T also provides paratransit rides to and from more distant parts of its service area, beyond the 0.75-mile threshold. It calls those trips “premium” rides, also known as “non-mandated” rides, and they have a higher $5.60 one-way fare.

Under the initial proposal on the board agenda for Thursday, those so-called “premium” rides would have been excluded from the low-income fare proposal, in part because of concerns that The RIDE does not have enough drivers to serve the expected increase in ridership.

“It makes no sense to use that RIDE users taking so-called premium trips, at a cost of more than $11 round trip – the people who face the highest costs and rely most deeply on the RIDE, were the only low-income users left out of the proposed fare reduction,” Mass. Senior Action activist Kathy Paul told the Board of Directors as she stood in front of over a dozen blue-shirted supporters.

“We won’t leave our brothers and sisters who rely on non-mandated The RIDE trips behind,” said Paul. “We believe this problem has some clear solutions… and we’re ready to help however we can. Including getting arrested.”

Later in the meeting, MBTA board chair and Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt noted that she’s been hearing about problems with The RIDE since she joined the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board nearly a decade ago.

She noted that a member of her own staff had to wait a month just to sign up for RIDE eligibility.

“I’ve been waiting 10 years, right along with this group. We have to do better for this population,” said Sec. Tibbits-Nutt.

Later, when the resolution to adopt the low-income fare policy came up for a vote, Sec. Tibbits-Nutt sponsored a motion to amend the policy to expand low-income fare eligibility to all The RIDE trips, including the so-called “premium” service area.

That motion, as well as the subsequent vote to adopt the full resolution, passed unanimously.

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Peering off the edge of the MBTA’s fiscal cliff

Disappointing fare revenues, a pile of debt and the end of federal pandemic relief money have pushed the MBTA to the financial limit. How did we get here, and what happens next?

Radio Boston talks with Jarred Johnson, executive director of the advocacy group TransitMatters, Christian MilNeil, editor in chief of StreetsblogMASS, and Susanna Bohme, deputy director at Community Labor United.

Listen to this segment on WBUR.

MBTA Plans to Offer Half-Priced Fares for Low-Income Riders Later This Year

During Friday’s Audit and Finance Subcommittee meeting of the MBTA board of directors, MBTA officials announced their intention to implement a new half-priced fare for low-income riders within the next few months.

“These changes can be implemented of the course of the spring and the summer,” said Steven Povich, the MBTA’s Senior Director of Fare policy and Analytics.

The program would offer half-priced fares on every MBTA service – including commuter rail and The RIDE paratransit services – for riders who verify that their earnings are lower than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

In the Boston region, that eligibility income level would be $29,160 for a single-person household, or $60,000 for a household of four.

The program fulfills a campaign pledge from Governor Maura Healey, who also alluded to low-income fares during her State of the Commonwealth address earlier this week.

“We will establish a permanent, reduced fare for low-income T riders, and continue affordable options at regional transit authorities,” said the Governor in her speech at the State House Wednesday evening.

Read the full article at StreetsblogMASS.

Low-Income MBTA Fares Back On Track With Budget Directive

WBZ NewsRadio 1030

BOSTON (State House News Service) – More than two years after the last legislative push died and with multiple MBTA analyses already complete, the long campaign to roll out a low-income fare option at the T took a significant step forward Monday.

Lawmakers earmarked money to begin moving toward a cheaper fare option for some riders as part of a $56.2 billion fiscal year 2024 budget they sent to Gov. Maura Healey, a bill that also features hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending on the T, regional transit authorities and other transportation infrastructure…

The Public Transit Public Good coalition, which has suggested that lower-income riders could save up to $500 per year from a discounted fare option, praised lawmakers for supporting the latest measure. Coalition co-chair Lee Matsueda called it “a significant victory.”

“We need this discounted fare for low-income riders. Many riders struggled to afford bus and train fares even before the pandemic,” MBTA rider Mitikei Chengerei said in a press release circulated by the coalition. “Structural racism and economic exploitation have created deep inequalities in Massachusetts, disproportionately impacting communities of color and working families who rely on transport to get to school, work, and medical appointments. This investment will provide us with much-needed respite.”

Read the full article at WBZ News Radio.

Edwards: Low-income T fares a fair deal for Mass. workers

Every day, hardworking Massachusetts residents face a difficult dilemma: pay for transportation to get to work or afford basic necessities. This is an unfair and unnecessary burden on those who contribute to the economic prosperity of the state. On this International Workers Day, it’s time to take action and make public transportation affordable for our workers with a low-income fare at the MBTA.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts has been trending in the opposite direction. For years, the cost of riding the MBTA has increased at a much faster rate than the cost of driving, and recent reports suggest that driving in Boston may actually be cheaper than taking public transit. The Massachusetts legislature can reverse this trend by passing legislation that establishes a permanent low-income fare program and ensures funding for a low-income fare in the Commonwealth’s FY24 Budget.

Read the full article at Boston Herald.

3 steps for turning around the MBTA

CommonWealth Magazine

Month-long shutdowns, frequent and serious accidents, a fire on the Orange Line, debilitating worker shortages, and a system so dysfunctional that it was facing takeover by the federal government — all of these events illustrate the systemwide crisis at the MBTA.

With a new administration on the horizon, however, our hopes are high for real and lasting change. On the campaign trail, Gov.-elect Maura Healey shared a vision for transportation that foregrounds equity and safety. As she and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll take office, there are three steps they can take right away to begin making that vision a reality.

Read the full op-ed at CommonWealth Magazine.