T notes: Impasse over fare evasion fines
Service levels going up, crowding standards getting scrapped
FOR THE SECOND STRAIGHT meeting, the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board and T staff couldn’t reach consensus on what the fines should be for fare evasion.
The current fines are $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $600 for a third or subsequent offenses. T staff on May 10 recommended reducing the fines to $50 for first, second, and third offenses and $100 for all subsequent offenses.
But the T staff’s recommendation didn’t sit well with several members of the control board, who called for reducing the fine for initial offenses to $10.
T staff came back on Monday with a new approach, setting different fines for different types of service. For local bus, subway, the Charlestown ferry, and the Fairmount commuter rail line the staff’s proposed fine was $25 for first, second, and third offenses and $50 for all subsequent offenses. For express bus and all other commuter rail and ferry services, the proposed fines were $50 for first, second, and third offenses and $100 for subsequent offenses.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak pushed back against the proposed change, saying the low fines would encourage fare evasion and force the T to expand its fare verification team beyond 80 people.
Lynsey Heffernan, the acting assistant general manager for policy, said a fare verification team of 80 people would yield an inspection rate of 5 to 7 percent, meaning the typical passenger would be checked only once every 20 rides. To avoid bias, the T’s proposed fare evasion regulations call for fare inspectors to check everyone on board a vehicle.
Joe Aiello, the board chair, tried to find common ground by starting the fines at $10, ramping up to $20 for second and third offenses, and ending up at $50 or $100 for subsequent offenses. He said his goal was to target repeat offenders.
With no consensus in the offing, the control board agreed to put off a decision until the next meeting in June.
T boosting service levels, scrapping COVID crowding standards
With ridership hitting its highest level since the pandemic began more than a year ago, the T is moving to boost service levels and do away with COVID crowding standards that limited how many people could safely ride a bus or subway car.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said T ridership in recent weeks hit its highest level since the pandemic began last spring. He said bus is at 50 percent of its pre-COVID capacity, subway is at 30 percent, and commuter rail has increased from single digits to nearly 19 percent of its pre-COVID capacity.
While Poftak said T riders are still being required to wear face masks on trains and buses and in stations, he said crowding standards implemented last year to allow for social distancing are being scrapped this coming Saturday, the same day the governor’s COVID restrictions are being lifted.
Under the COVID crowding standard, a 40-foot bus is considered crowded with 20 people on board as opposed to the 56 people pre-COVID. On the Red Line, a car is currently considered crowded with 66 people on board, compared to 161 pre-COVID. On the Green Line, a car is crowded with 31 passengers, compared to the old standard of 80.
Traffic rising even faster on roads
The state highway administrator on Monday said traffic over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend may match 2019 levels and warned that law enforcement officers are starting to issue a lot more distracted driving citations and warnings.
Jonathan Gulliver said congestion should be expected this weekend as traffic returns to pre-COVID levels.He also said distracted driving citations and warnings have increased dramatically, rising from 151 in January to 405 in February, 3,515 in March, and 10,276 in April.
Odds & ends
- Weekend service is returning July 3 on the Needham, Franklin, Kingston, Greenbush, Haverhjill, Lowell, and Fitchburg lines.
- The Massachusetts Department of Transportation signed a memorandum of understanding with the State Police agreeing to pay $19.5 million a year for police protection and services.
- Somerville lawmakers and local officials turned out in force at Monday’s virtual meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board to press for a total of $4 million in capital funding for noise barriers along I-93 and trees and road safety improvements along Mystic Avenue and McGrath Highway.