T starting to get serious about fare evasion

New fine structure, fare verification team coming

AS IT MOVES toward a new way of boarding passengers on buses and the Green Line, the MBTA is starting to address the touchy subject of fare evasion.

Currently, passengers board at the front door of a bus or Green Line car (as it travels above ground) and pay their fares in front of the driver. But a new cashless fare collection system under development will allow passengers to board at any door and tap on at card readers. The approach is expected to speed up boarding and cut trip times by 10 percent, but it raises the question about what to do about people who hop on board and don’t pay.

“One of the challenges and one of the risks with all-door boarding is the potential for an increase in fare evasion,” said Lynsey Heffernan, the acting assistant general manager for policy and strategic development, at Monday’s meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board. 

The expectation is that the T will have to hire fare inspectors who will spot-check riders to make sure they have paid. That won’t be easy in the potentially crowded confines of a bus or Green Line car and it raises a host of issues about selective enforcement.

“This is not going to be an easy job,” said Joseph Aiello, the chair of the control board. 

The Legislature set the process in motion last month by passing a transportation bond bill that decriminalized fare evasion and authorized the T to hire a “civilian fare verification team” and issue regulations lowering fines to an appropriate level.  

Under prior law, only transit police could issue citations for fare evasion and the fines were $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, and $600 for the third offense. T officials say relatively few citations have been issued in the past – about 2,000 to 4,000 a year.

The previous citation system was paper-based; the new system will be digitized and capable of tracking patterns of enforcement by race, location, and other factors. 

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.

The T is planning to issue draft regulations shortly, solicit feedback from the control board, then take public comment on them. The T hopes to have new regulations in place by this summer and then begin hiring a fare verification team in time for when the new fare collection system is deployed two years from now.  

Heffernan said the regulations may have to be tweaked again when the system is deployed to take into account changes that take place during the rollout. The T is already installing card readers in some subway stations and buses for testing purposes only and to iron out technical kinks.