T notes: Half-price reverse commute fare to Foxboro

Big time savings for Silver Line buses using Seaport ramp

THE MBTA INTENDS to begin testing commuter rail service between Boston and Foxboro starting October 21, complete with a half-price fare for people who reverse commute to the suburb.

The normal one-way fare between Foxboro, which is in zone 4, and Boston, which is in zone 1A, is $8.75. The T plans to test whether a fare of $4.25 can entice people to reverse commute from Boston to Foxboro.

The reduced fare works for the Kraft Group, which is subsidizing the commuter rail pilot and looking to attract employees to work at Patriot Place, the retail complex next to Gillette Stadium. It also fits what appears to be an emerging trend of using lower fares to build ridership. Lawrence just put up money to make three bus routes within the city free. Massport doubled ridership on its Back Bay-Logan Airport by cutting or eliminating fares. And the T has gained ridership on weekends by offering an all-you-can-ride $10 fare.

A recent MassINC research brief urged the T to try lowering fares for reverse commuters, but the think tank called for lowering the fares to Gateway Cities.  (MassINC owns CommonWealth.)

The reverse commute fare will be available on trains leaving South Station for Foxboro in the morning at 6:03, 7:05, and 8:50 and leaving Foxboro for Boston in the afternoon/evening at 4:33, 5:26, 6:35, and 7:40. Zone 1A in Boston extends out to Reading.

The new Foxboro service will consist of 10 inbound and 10 outbound trips. The Foxboro station has 500 parking spaces, for which the fee is $4 per day. The new service will result in the elimination of four inbound and two outbound Walpole stops on a daily basis, but T officials said Walpole riders shouldn’t be inconvenienced too badly. They also said Walpole riders could board the train at the Foxboro station, which is just 4.3 miles away.

The new Foxboro service will share part of its route with the Fairmount Line. Joseph Aiello, chair of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, sought reassurances on Monday from T officials that Fairmount passengers wouldn’t be left standing if the new Foxboro service is successful and trains fill up early. If that happens, T officials said, they would reserve seats for Fairmount Line passengers.

T plans to free the ramp

After a successful test run at the end of August, the MBTA on Monday announced on Monday that it intends to start rerouting Silver Line buses headed for the airport on to a State Police emergency ramp that provides quicker access to I-90.

The test ran for three days just prior to Labor Day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. when congestion in the Seaport and on I-90 is typically most severe. T officials said time savings over those three days averaged between 3 and 8 minutes, with the biggest savings coming between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.  Time savings went as high as 17 minutes during a particularly congested period. Those time savings are significant because the bus’s scheduled run time to the airport is currently 20 minutes.

The advocacy group TransitMatters and the Fiscal and Management Control Board have been pushing the T to open access to the emergency ramp for close to four years. It looks like the wait will continue for another three months while the T makes some modifications to the entrance to the ramp and installs a system to notify buses when the ramp is being used by emergency responders.

A look down the ramp to I-90 that’s located in the Seaport District. (Photo by Bruce Mohl)

For years, Silver Line buses have come up out of the tunnel from South Station at D Street and then proceeded a short distance to a stop where they change power modes. The bus then proceeds to the Ted Williams Tunnel by a circuitous route that passes directly by the emergency ramp, adjacent to State Police offices.

Initially, T officials were skeptical Silver Line 1 and 3 buses could make the turn on to the ramp and merge with traffic down below. They subsequently approved the test as long as the buses did not attempt to merge with traffic on I-90 if vehicles there were traveling at more than 30 miles per hour.

During the test period, traffic never exceeded 30 miles per hour, which could mean access to the ramp could be extended to 7 p.m.

Eighteen Silver Line bus operators answered a survey about the ramp test, and they overwhelmingly said they could see traffic as they merged on to I-90  (a major T concern) and merging felt safe. “Please keep it open,” one bus operator wrote. “The ramp is necessary during rush hours,” said another.

Turnpike refinancing nets big savings

Transportation officials told the MassDOT board on Monday that a planned refinancing of debt associated with the Massachusetts Turnpike inside Route 128 should save the state $10 million a year, or a total of more than $161 million in net present value savings.

Betsy Taylor, a member of the MassDOT board and the head of a committee overseeing the agency’s finances, said the refinancing, currently scheduled for October, should yield 20 percent savings for the agency. “This is an exceptional opportunity,” she said.

Red-Blue connector inches forward

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.

MBTA officials are slowly moving forward with plans to extend the Blue Line to connect with the Red Line at Charles/MGH, forming a working group of key stakeholders and hiring the consulting firm AECOM to evaluate the feasibility and cost of the project.

Eric Stoothoff, the MBTA’s chief engineer, said the expectation is that a request for proposals for environmental permitting and design work will be issued a year from now in fall 2020.