The T wants you – to snitch

Officials look for ways to recover $42 million in lost fare collections

THE MBTA’s COMMUTER RAIL operator thinks it has a secret weapon in the effort to recoup as much as $35 million in lost revenues from fare evasion – snitches.

That was among several plans presented by Peter Williams, who is heading up an initiative by rail operator Keolis to recover the lost revenue, to the MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board as the agency seeks to bolster fare collection on the commuter rail as well as on the surface stops of the authority’s Green Line and buses.

“We want to get across the message that it’s not acceptable not to pay the correct fare,” Williams told the board. “People do need to pay the fare for their journey.”

According to figures provided to the board, the T loses as much as $42 million in fares from the three transportation modes and the cost of fixing the problem continues to vex officials. The bulk of the lost revenue comes from the commuter rail, while T officials estimate the authority loses roughly $4.5 million in uncollected fares on the Green Line and another $2.4 million on buses.

Williams said Keolis did a survey of riders at the beginning of March to come up with the estimates. He said the survey found 60 percent of riders said they paid full fare “all the time,” while 37 percent said they paid it “most of the time.” About 3 percent said they paid the required fare “some of the time.”

The survey found 80 percent of passengers paid the correct fare while 15 to 20 percent did not. About 3 percent said their money or ticket was never collected, 6 percent had invalid tickets, 5 percent paid the incorrect fare, and 6 percent would not say.

Williams said officials will count on angry passengers who had to pay their way with passes or other tickets emailing fareisfair@keoliscs.com to squeal on free riders and conductors who let it go. He detailed a variety of ways in which commuter rail passengers avoid fares, ranging from paying for one zone but traveling further to switching seats so the conductor won’t be able to collect the fare.

He also said the electronic “M” ticket that riders can pay for and display on their smartphone is subject to fraud. He said some riders will take a screenshot of a ticket and display that, counting on conductors being too busy to examine it closely. The ticket is supposed to move on the screen to indicate to conductors it is valid. But Williams said some resourceful passengers will take a short video of the electronic ticket and show that to fool the conductor.

In addition to asking passengers to email them, Williams said Keolis is willing to invest up to $10 million in what he termed a “ring of steel” to put fare gates up at Back Bay Station, South Station, and North Station as well as manual gates at Ruggles, Porter Square and Quincy Center, a move he said could garner as much as $24 million in lost fare revenue.

“The gate stops that because you can’t argue with a gate,” he said.

Brian Kane, the T’s director of operations analysis, said fare evasion on the Green Line is a problem, though not as severe as on the commuter rail. Kane said about two years ago Green Line operators were told to open all doors at the surface stops because customers complained about the length of time trains would stay at stops while people got on-board only through the front door.

Kane said pilot programs and observations since the all-door policy was enacted found about 9.3 percent of the 82,000 daily passengers got on through the rear doors but he said at least half of those had passes, possibly as many as 70 percent. He estimated that if none of the back-door boarders had passes, it would cost the T roughly $4.5 million, with the estimate declining if passes were factored in to account for lost fares.

Kane said hiring monitors for all 53 surface stops, even if it was just for three hours during peak ridership in the morning, would cost a minimum of $2 million, negating any savings. He said the authority is in the process of exploring automated fare validators such as San Francisco has successfully deployed and a new automated fare collection system called AFC 2.0 would be in place within the next two years.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

But, he cautioned, no system is fool-proof.

“No light rail system has 100 percent fare collection,” he said. “It’s very rarely achieved outside totalitarian dictatorships.”