A Silver Lining

A Silver Lining

A BOLD TRANSIT experiment over at Logan International Airport seems to be working.

Starting last June, the MBTA stopped collecting fares from arriving air passengers boarding Silver Line buses at the airport. The change had two positive impacts at Logan:  Passengers could board buses at the airport much more quickly and they could get to South Station and other points on the MBTA system for free. As a result, ridership on Silver Line buses traveling from the airport to Boston is up about 18 percent.

Now it appears the Silver Line shift may have triggered other positive changes. New data indicate a lot more people are riding the Silver Line from South Station to the airport. The uptick in traffic to the airport probably indicates growing acceptance of the Silver Line. But some state transportation officials also think people who fly into Logan and take the Silver Line into Boston for free are finding they like the service enough to pay for it when they travel back to Logan to catch return flights.

T officials say that, since June, the number of riders on Silver Line buses to the airport has increased 70 percent on weekdays to 3,228. On Sundays, ridership is up 38 percent to 2,477. Ridership on the Blue Line, meanwhile, has held steady, suggesting the free Silver Line buses are not siphoning passengers away from the airport subway station.

“Word has been spreading about the convenience and affordability of the MBTA’s innovative bus rapid transit line,” said Joe Pesaturo, the T’s spokesman, who notes the Silver Line is less than eight years old. “Why would anyone pay for parking or a cab when you can take a reliable, frequent, and very affordable public transit service to the airport?”

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, is happy with the Silver Line changes. By allowing Silver Line passengers to dispense with fares and to enter through all doors, boarding times at Logan have dropped and the buses are moving through the airport about two minutes quicker.

“From our perspective, that’s terrific,” said Massport spokesman Matt Brelis. “We have a very space-constrained airport and anything we can do to alleviate curbside congestion is a good thing.”

Massport, which bought the Silver Line buses for the T, has pledged to compensate the transit agency for any financial losses related to the free service. Massport hasn’t paid anything yet because it first wants to obtain clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration. Under federal aviation law, airport revenue can only be used for airport operations.

Massport early last year asked the FAA for guidance on how far it can go in subsidizing Silver Line service, but it withdrew that request recently because the agency is now reviewing options for increasing its financial support for the state’s transportation system. The Patrick administration wants Massport to start coughing up $10 million a year in fiscal 2015, rising to $12 million in fiscal 2021.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Brelis said it made sense to withdraw the earlier Silver Line request and file a more comprehensive document with the FAA. “We might have some additional asks,” he said.

The cover photo has been relased into public domain by its author.