T notes: $10 weekend fare didn’t need to go away
Control board member skeptical parking fee hikes working as planned
MBTA OFFICIALS WERE mistaken last month when they said the transit authority needed to discontinue its special $10 weekend commuter rail fare to prepare an equity analysis of its impact.
The special fare, which offered unlimited commuter rail rides on Saturdays and Sundays for $10, shut down on December 15 and resumed this past weekend after the T released a statement thanking the Federal Transit Authority for allowing the agency to resume its test of the fare. But the actual letter from the Federal Transit Authority suggests the pilot didn’t need to shut down at all — all the T needed to do was ask for an extension.
The special $10 weekend fare was initially scheduled to run from June through September, but was extended until December. Under fare regulations, any fare pilot becomes permanent after six months and an equity analysis is needed to determine if the initiative is treating all types of riders equally.
When they learned the fare was being discontinued at their December 10 meeting, members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board were upset the pilot was going on hiatus. They were worried an interruption would be a setback for a program that had worked well, and urged T officials to do everything they could to keep the fare going.
“FTA does expect a fare equity analysis to be completed within a reasonable time of the decision to make the fare decision permanent; the fare reduction may remain in place while the transit agency conducts the analysis,” said the letter. “We encourage agencies that need more time to assess whether to continue a fare reduction to reach out to FTA prior to the end of the six-month promotional period.”
Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager, said the agency should have reached out to the Federal Transit Administration before the six-month pilot project was discontinued.
Over the next six months, T officials plan to survey riders as part of an effort to gather information for an equity analysis.
During the initial six month period the fare was in place, 180,000 weekend passes were sold, or an average of 7,200 per weekend. Commuter rail revenue overall was up 4.6 percent, or about $350,000, in 2018 versus the same period in 2018 despite the lower fare.
T officials said on Monday that they sold 6,588 of the $10 passes this past weekend, 8.5 percent less than the previous average.
Parking fee hikes a wash
T officials said a bid to introduce congestion pricing at the agency’s 99 parking lots appears to be working, although revenues across the system appear to be flat.
Evan Rowe, the T’s director of revenue, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that total occupancy increased at the 21 reduced-price facilities by 27 percent, or about 23,000 cars per month. At the 32 facilities where weekday prices were increased, Rowe said, average monthly occupancy decreased 5 percent, a decline of about 16,000 cars per month.
Rowe said the T is on track to meet its parking revenue targets for this year, but a chart he included in his presentation indicated the T’s busiest garages are unlikely to bring in as much revenue as they could. For example, the T increased the weekday fare at its Alewife Garage from $7 to $9 and cut the fare on weekends to $3. Overall, revenue at the garage from September 1 through December 31 was up 13.6 percent compared to the same period a year ago, a gain of about $19,000. But the increase in revenue was well below the 28.6 percent increase in the weekday fare. The results were similar at many of the T’s other top garages.
Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a director of the control board, said she wanted to see a more in-depth presentation on the parking revenue numbers. She said she worried that the T was turning potential riders away from its busiest lots, and maybe turning them away from the transit system all together.
Tibbits-Nutt said she regularly uses the Alewife Garage, which she described as “a complete and utter nightmare” for people commuting into Boston.
Rowe said the parking strategy is not causing T ridership to decline. He said parking utilization is up 5 percent across the entire system.
New commuter rail coaches may be coming
The MBTA may purchase new commuter rail bi-level coaches later this year if ridership numbers indicate expanded service is needed.
In a presentation on capital spending, the coaches were listed under anticipated vehicle contracts with a contract value to be determined. MBTA General Manager Steven Poftak said the coaches may or may not be needed, depending on the outcome of a commuter rail passenger count that is expected to be completed later this month.
“To the extent there is demand for additional service that requires additional coaches, we would need to start the process of addressing that,” Poftak said.Blue Hill Avenue station to open in Feb.
MBTA officials said the Blue Hill Avenue commuter rail station on the Fairmount Line is expected to open for service in February. The $22 million center-island platform runs between Cummins Highway and Blue Hill Avenue.