‘Free’ getting another test during Orange Line shutdown
Absence of fares enticing subway riders to try commuter rail, bikes
THE ONE-MONTH Orange Line shutdown is a big test of thinking big when it comes to subway maintenance work, but it is also providing the opportunity to experiment with another innovative transportation strategy – free fares.
Hoping to cram five years of weekend and night work into a single month, the MBTA shut down the entire Orange Line on Friday and sought to minimize the inconvenience for riders by deploying a fleet of free shuttle buses. So far, the replacement system appears to be holding together.
Riders are also being enticed by the absence of fares to use alternative modes of transportation. For example, the MBTA is requiring passengers to only show a Charlie Card to ride the commuter rail system inside zones 2, 1 and 1A, which means a service that normally costs as much as $7 for a one-way trip is now basically free.
And Bluebikes, thanks to subsidies provided by HYM Investment Group, which is building the Government Center Garage project, is offering free passes for the entire month.
“When you remove financial barriers, the appetite is there, the demand is there for bikes, for commuter rail, for all the other modes,” she said on WBUR’s Radio Boston show on Monday.
City officials said Bluebike ridership hit an all-time high over the weekend, with a total of more than 36,000 riders over the two days. Each day topped the previous high of 18,303 set on September 11, 2021. Nearly 12,000 people had acquired free monthly passes as of 9 a.m. Monday, according to city officials.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is also offering valet service at select stations, providing more bikes and more dropoff space than is normally available.
Ridership numbers for the commuter rail system were not immediately available. Wu said she and her sons rode the system over the weekend and conductors didn’t even bother to check for Charlie Cards.Wu said the commuter rail trains would be ideal substitutes for the Orange Line if the frequency of trains were increased. Over the weekend, Wu said, trains running between Roslindale and Back Bay came every two hours. On weekdays, the service normally runs every hour on the hour – a frequency Wu called “unacceptable” — but has been increased to every half hour during the Orange Line shutdown.
“Because it is free during the shutdown, it is a very, very convenient option,” she said.