T missing out on college student market
University pass attracts only 12,500 customers
MBTA OFFICIALS said on Monday they are struggling to come up with a pass that would be attractive to local universities and their students and at the same time produce significant revenue for the transit authority.
The current university pass, which offers an 11 percent price discount on various products, attracted 12,500 customers in the fall semester of 2016 and earned the MBTA $7.5 million. Emerson College had the highest percentage usage, at slightly over 14 percent of its students.
By contrast, Chicago’s U-Pass program offers a very low price (the equivalent of $1.07 a day) but requires mandatory participation by participating schools. The Chicago program serves over 100,000 students a year and generates $32 million a year in revenue.
Evan Rowe, the T’s director of revenue, acknowledged the university pass is probably not being marketed correctly. Bunker Hill Community College, which has its own stop on the Orange Line, had only 1.6 percent of its students participating in 2016.
Rowe said Greater Boston university officials have shown no interest in a mandatory university pass and little interest in other options unless students receive a significant discount. However, he said, MIT and Harvard University are currently exploring student pass options.
Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, wondered whether greater use of university passes would cut down on people sneaking on to the Green Line. T officials on Monday estimated fare evasion on the Green Line totals about $2 million a year, but they didn’t know how much of that total could be attributed to students at Boston University and other schools. Earlier estimates in 2016 pegged fare evasion on the Green Line at $1.3 million to $4.5 million a year.
Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a member of the control board who has sat in on some of the meetings with universities, urged Rowe to focus his attention on other types of fare passes with the potential to generate more money.Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack recommended that Rowe continue testing products with MIT and Harvard until the T implements a new fare collection system over the next few years. She said the information gleaned from the tests could help the T design a pass that would be more attractive to students and universities.
“We have a product-design problem,” she said.