A low-income fare would make a real difference

Public support is high, need is great

TWO MONTHS before my daughter was due to be born, I developed preeclampsia and had to be rushed from Brockton to Tufts Medical Center to give birth. My baby was in the neonatal intensive care unit for more than a month, and after I was discharged, I came in every day to visit her. The journey back and forth would have been hard for any parent. For me, the financial cost added to the emotional toll. I was 16 and homeless, and it took everything I had to find the daily commuter rail fare to get back and forth each day to see my daughter.

Today, she is nine years old and thriving. We are on solid footing and live together in an apartment in Brockton. But I know that for other people going through a hard time like I was — or just trying to make ends meet — the cost of public transportation is still a barrier. The recent advancement of An Act Relative to Low-Income Fares by the joint transportation committee is a hopeful sign for riders struggling to pay the fares on the commuter rail, MBTA buses and subways, and on regional transportation authority (buses like the BAT here in Brockton.

This legislation would direct the MBTA to establish a reduced fare program for low-income people. According to a recent report by the Public Transit Public Good Coalition, low-income commuter rail riders would save an average of $875 a year. That would make a real difference in Brockton, where 17 percent of commuter rail riders are low-income. A more affordable fare would not only provide relief to existing riders but would enable more people to ride, opening up job opportunities in Boston and beyond.

MBTA bus and subway riders would also see more affordable fares, saving about $475 annually. And users of The RIDE, the paratransit service for people with disabilities, could afford 415,000 more trips a year. Altogether, a low-income fare would give almost $50 million back to low-income MBTA riders every year.

Riders who use the Commonwealth’s 15 regional transit authorities, or RTAs, also stand to benefit. The legislation would allow RTAs to get help in developing their own discounted fare programs — or even in going completely fare free. This support couldn’t come at a better time, as RTAs are already listening to riders and advancing new affordability measures.

Worcester Regional Transit Authority has extended its fare-free policy through the end of 2022 while considering a permanent shift to fare-free service. The Merrimack Valley Transit Authority Board voted in December to eliminate fare collection on the local bus and EZ Trans paratransit services for at least two years, building on the success of its free bus routes. BAT offered free fare weekends on buses over the summer. Passing a low-income fare would give RTAs support to continue advancing these important affordability measures.

Public support for low-income fares is high. In January, a MassINC statewide poll showed 79 percent of respondents supported a low-income fare discount. The Legislature passed similar language as part of a transportation bond bill last year, although it was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker. The governor is likely the reason the MBTA hasn’t started a low-income fare program already, even though a year-long pilot would cost less than 2 percent of the MBTA annual budget. But riders, workers, and the rest of the public agree — it is long past time for a low-income fare.

Meet the Author

Bri Nichols

Brockton North Grassroots Coordinator, Coalition for Social Justice
Looking back on my daughter’s birth, I know that nothing would have made that time easy. But I also want any other young parent not to have to worry about how to get to their baby. Public transit is for the public, and we should all be able to afford it, whether we are heading to work, to school, to food or culture, or to be with the ones we love.

Bri Nichols is the Brockton North Grassroots Coordinator with Coalition for Social Justice, which is part of the Public Transit Public Good Coalition. She has a degree in human services and is continuing education in communications at Bridgewater State University. She is the founder/president of Resilient Roses Respite, a board member of  Brockton Interfaith Community, a leader of DARRC Coalition, and a candidate for City Council.