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