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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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