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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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