MBTA seeks to charge $3 for ‘new’ Charlie Cards
New fee would kick in when T rolls out new fare collection system
THE MBTA is seeking approval from its oversight board to charge riders $3 for newly designed Charlie Cards as part of the rollout of a new fare collection system.
The new fare collection system will allow payment using new or temporary Charlie Cards, a mobile Charlie Card app, as well as contactless credit cards and mobile wallets. The $3 fee will apply to all three versions of the Charlie Card but not the credit cards or mobile wallets like Apple Pay or Google Pay.
To ease the blow on low-income riders, T officials said they plan to distribute about 350,000 Charlie Cards for free in low-income and minority neighborhoods. The cards will also be free to participants in the T’s reduced-fare programs or to purchasers of one-day Link passes.
In a presentation to a subcommittee of the MBTA Board on Thursday, T staffers included images of a newly designed Charlie Card featuring a subway-map-type image rather than the stylized version of “Charlie” with his noseless face leaning out a window. The staffers made no mention of the new design, but several members of the board said after the presentation that they liked it.
The new card fee is part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a new $1 billion-plus fare collection system designed to allow passengers to use one card to pay for all T services. The new system is being developed as Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and many transportation advocates are pressing the T to stop spending money on collecting fares from passengers and do away with fares entirely.
Steve Povich, the T’s director of fare policy and analytics, said the $3 fee is designed to cover the $1.50 cost of producing the card and also provide “one-more-trip protection” — the ability to take one more trip when the balance on the card is not enough to cover the trip. He said the built-in one-more-trip protection will provide convenience and keep passengers from getting stranded.
T board member Mary Beth Mello asked how the T would prevent someone from scamming the system by continuously tapping into the one-more-trip protection. Povich said details are still being worked out, but assured Mello that wouldn’t happen.
Povich said the T had originally planned to charge $5 for Charlie Cards, but reduced the fee in response to public feedback.It’s unclear when the new fare collection system will roll out so it is unclear when the new fee for Charlie Cards will kick in. It is also unclear how many riders would actually be affected by the new fee. The T is currently assuming as many as 30 percent of riders will use the Charlie Card app and at least 30 percent will use contactless credit cards, although the percentage could rise significantly higher if the credit cards are capable of storing weekly and monthly passes.
The new T fare collection system will require each rider to carry with them proof that they paid. As a result, T staff are asking the transit authority’s oversight board to approve doing away with the popular so-called pass-back option, where one rider with a Charlie Card pays for other riders by passing his or her card back to them. It’s a convenient and popular service for families and visitors where one member of the party carries the fare card. Now, if the proposal is eventually approved, everyone who is required to pay a fare will have to individually pay it.