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Proposal to Increase T Fares in January

By Mac Daniel

Subway, bus, and commuter rail fares would rise sharply under an overhaul proposed yesterday by the MBTA.

Starting in January, subway and trolley fares would increase from $1.25 to $1.70, bus fares would go from 90 cents to $1.25, and most commuter rail passes would cost 22 percent more.

Riders who don’t use new automated fare CharlieCards would pay even higher per-ride fares under the plan, as much as an 80 percent increase to $2.25 for a subway trip. The new fare system would also end the free ride for outbound passengers at Green Line surface stations, officials said yesterday.

The increases would take effect in January, after a series of public workshops and hearings that start May 15 and after the MBTA board votes in November or December. MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas said the proposed increases could be modified if there is enough public outcry.

“We tried to give everybody a smorgasbord of options and they can help us choose,” Grabauskas said yesterday. “Nobody likes to increase fares. Nobody.”

With the last fare hike, in January 2004, bus fares rose from 75 to 90 cents and subway fares went from $1 to $1.25.

The proposed fare increases would bring the T in line with several of the nation’s other largest transit agencies. The fare hikes are projected to bring in $70 million more a year, enough for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to balance its budget as it contends with $8.1 billion in debt, deteriorating infrastructure, and declining state sales tax revenues that help fund the agency.

Some daily riders, however, could end up paying less than they do now because there will be free transfers systemwide and the cost of a monthly rail-bus pass would drop by about $17. The T also plans to do away with Red Line exit fares at stations in Quincy and Braintree.

The changes also would not go into effect until automated fare collection and CharlieCards are available across the transit system. That is scheduled to happen by year’s end.

The T, the nation’s fourth largest public transit system, averages 1.1 million passenger boardings each workday on a network of subway and commuter rail trains, trolleys, buses, and ferries that extends across the Boston region.

As part of the proposed changes, parking rates are also slated to increase slightly to $5 at Quincy Center, Quincy Adams, and Braintree on the Red Line; to $3.50 at Chestnut Hill, Eliot, and Waban on the Green Line; and to $3.75 at Riverside on the Green Line. The present zoned rates for the MBTA’s RIDE program for disabled passengers will also be discontinued for a flat $2 fare each way.

Commuter rail fares would go up as well. For example, a one-way fare from Andover to North Station would rise from $5 to $6.25 while a monthly pass would rise from $170 to $210.

T officials say the changes are designed to generate more money while getting rid of unfair quirks that have accumulated over the years.

Red Line exit fares, for instance, resulted from having customers help pay for adding service to the South Shore. Some of the fare exceptions are so old and entrenched, such as the free outbound rides on the Green Line surface stations, that current T officials can’t fully explain their history.

T officials also said charging more for single-purchase fares will give more incentive for passengers to use the CharlieCards which look like credit cards and can be reloaded with cash to help speed the boarding of bus passengers and discourage people from trying to skip paying fares.

To get through fare gates, riders will just tap their CharlieCard against a digital reader. Charlie-Tickets have to be inserted, which takes longer, as does giving cash to bus drivers.

Those paying cash or using CharlieTickets, currently in use on portions of the Red and Blue lines and on all of the Silver Line, would pay more under the new fare schedule. Those paying cash or using CharlieTickets will also pay full price to transfer from bus to subway, while CharlieCard users will transfer free.

The planned increases were met with resigned support from one critic of the most recent fare increase, who praised the creation of free transfers, something passenger advocates have been seeking for years. For instance, a passenger could ride the Silver Line bus from Dudley Station to Downtown Crossing, hop on an Orange Line train to Oak Grove, then take another bus to Melrose all for $1.70, if the travel is completed within a yet-to-be-determined time limit.

“That will help encourage some more people to use the T,” said Jeremy Marin, president of the Sierra Club of Massachusetts.

But he said he worries that another fare increase will cut ridership, eventually leading to another fare hike. “We said during the last fare hike that this was creating a downward spiral,” he said. “Revenue is down so you charge higher fares, you get fewer riders, and you need to raise fares again.”

Grabauskas said that despite the fare increase, the MBTA has not cut services while most other transit agencies have. T officials say that because of flat ridership, a huge increase in fuel costs, and debt that is higher than any other transit agency, the T has had to dip the last two years into its reserves to balance its budget.

In New York City and Philadelphia, a subway trip or local bus ride is $2; fares on Northern California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit vary by destination, with a trip from the Embarcadero in San Francisco to 24th Street Mission costing $1.40 one way. Metro bus service in Washington costs $1.25, while subway service costs between $1.35 and $3.90, depending on destination.