T to relaunch $10 weekend commuter rail fare

Feds OK a six-month extension of the pilot

AFTER NEARLY A ONE-MONTH hiatus, the MBTA plans to resume its $10 ride-all-you-want weekend commuter rail fare this coming weekend.

The special fare was suspended, much to the disappointment of the T’s oversight board, after the weekend of December 8-9. T officials told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on December 10 that they needed to conduct an equity analysis to see if all income groups were being treated equally under the lower weekend fare.

Members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board were furious at the interruption to what they viewed as a successful, six-month pilot initiative, and urged the T to explore ways to keep running the program without disruption. Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a member of the control board, criticized T staff for not taking steps before the end of the six-month period to avoid a break in service.

Those efforts to revive the special fare immediately weren’t successful, but on Wednesday, the first day on the job for new T General Manager Steven Poftak, the transit agency announced that the Federal Transit Administration had approved a six-month extension of the initial fare pilot allowing the special $10 weekend ticket to resume this Saturday.

T officials had said earlier that any fare change extending beyond six months would become permanent and required an equity analysis to determine whether it is fair to all riders. At a meeting of the control board in December, a member of Green Roots of Chelsea said the fare was a great benefit for wealthier, suburban communities but of little benefit to communities closer in to Boston.

At the time, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said T staff wasn’t sure how to conduct an equity analysis of the fare. It was unclear Wednesday whether the T had reached an agreement with the Federal Transit Administration on how to conduct the analysis.

The fare allows commuter rail riders age 12 and above to travel as much as they want on Saturday and Sunday for a single fare of $10. The fare allows adults to travel with two children under 12 at no additional cost. The CapeFlyer and special event trains, such as those to Gillette Stadium, are exempt from the fare.

The T launched the special $10 weekend fare on June 9 in a bid to see if people could be incentivized to use nearly empty commuter rail trains on weekends for trips into Boston or out to the suburbs, rural areas, and beaches. The project was initially scheduled to end at the end of the summer but was extended through December 9.

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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.

Results showed that 180,000 weekend passes were sold over the initial six-month period, 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 2017 despite the lower fare.

Still, the $10 pass represented only 23 percent of weekend sales, which means three-quarters of weekend riders continued to purchase regular fares. T officials said the $10 weekend fare may not offer cost savings to riders who receive student or senior discounts, have monthly passes, commute inside metro Boston, or travel within a single commuter rail zone.