MBTA Math: $4 Minus $2.80 Equals $4

I don’t begrudge the MBTA for charging fares for its services.  Actually, I think it is very important that the T get its fare structure right.

Unfortunately, the T never has gotten one particular aspect of its fares right: monthly passholders pay full fare in cash when they ride on a higher-level service.  A pass might be good for several dollars credit against the fare on one service, and not a dime on another.  The T inexplicably fails to give passholders the full value across the entire system that they purchased for one particular service.

An illustration might help.  There are two levels of express bus service, inner express and outer express.  The outer express bus generally travels to more distant stops.  An $89 inner express bus pass is good for the entire $2.80 inner express bus fare.  Not surprisingly, the pass is not good for the $4.00 outer express bus; there is a more expensive pass for that bus.  But here’s the riddle: if I offer an inner express pass good for a $2.80 fare, and the actual fare is $4.00 for the outer express bus, I only should have to pay an extra $1.20 cash, right?  Not so, at least on the MBTA.  Passholders receive no discount on the more expensive service.  They pay full fare, even though they hold a pass that would entitle them to credit for all of the fare on a different bus.  (And as an aside, there is an additional complication that the T charges different cash fares and prepaid pass/charlie card fares).

This has been a problem for years.  It is most obvious with the flexible passes for the express bus, commuter rail, and boat, because there are multiple levels of service.  However, “Link Pass” on the stored value card offers no solution, except to add a further technological hurdle to the administrative one.  Fare-takers on the commuter rail and boat don’t have the equipment to verify that a rider has a valid “Link Pass” on their stored value card.

To their credit, T fare takers typically are generous when it comes to making accommodations to passengers to ameliorate this nonsensical no-discount policy.  But wouldn’t it be better if the T used a more rational fare structure?  A $4 fare, minus a $2.80 credit for a monthly pass, ought to result in a $1.20 cash fare.

2 thoughts on “MBTA Math: $4 Minus $2.80 Equals $4

  1. I can see your rationale but not sure if I buy this argument. If I have a local bus/subway pass, should it also automatically entitle me a similarly reduced fare on all express bus and commuter train services just because those higher level passes include the local bus service? I’m a pass holder myself too but to me a pass is not same as a discount card for all rides that MTBA offers but a privilege to only those services that particular pass covers.

  2. It’s a matter of equity. If you ride a train home at a higher level of service, then you did not ride the bus to the same location and so realized no value from your very substantial investment in a monthly pass for that day. It’s not like the MBTA reserved a seat for you– the pass does not even specify a trip or a line. Of course the MBTA is entitled make distinctions — route, time of day, weather, phase of the moon, barometric pressure, sun spots. The point is that some of those distinctions make sense, and some do not. Let’s say you paid the MBTA $115 for month of rides to Newton Corner, but then at the start of the month you realize that you really need to get to the far side of West Newton for the whole month, which is a $168 or $198 pass by OE bus or train. Does it help frame the issue better when the numbers are bigger? $53 versus $168?

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