Jul 13, 2022 - News

T riders push for lower fares for low earners

A group of demonstrators outside the Mass. State House asking for MBTA discounts for low-income people.
Demonstrators gathered outside the State House for a rally before delivering a petition to officials demanding action on discounted T fares for low-income people. Photo: Mike Deehan/Axios

MBTA workers joined public transit riders Tuesday in a rally calling for lawmakers to make the T cheaper for low-income residents.

The latest: Around 50 demonstrators took a giant CharlieCard adorned with over 1,000 signatures as a petition into the State House to deliver to the offices of legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker.

  • They want the T to create a means-tested fare program that would give discounts to riders who qualify based on their earnings.
  • A monthly pass for the MBTA subway and buses is $90, while buses alone cost $55.

By the numbers: Supporters tout a MassINC poll showing that a majority of voters want the T to be more affordable, especially for low-wage earners.

  • 84% of residents strongly or somewhat favor discounting transit fares for lower-income residents, according to MassINC Polling Group.

What they're saying: In a release before the rally, organizers wrote that communities of color and working people have carried a disproportionate burden of the cost of operating the MBTA as they've become a larger proportion of the ridership during the pandemic.

  • "With inflation soaring, that burden is even more pronounced for low-income people who rely on the MBTA, even as the Authority strives to address safety problems that put workers and riders at risk," the statement from the Public Transit Public Good Coalition read.

The intrigue: Most of the protesters' attention is on Baker, who vetoed a low-income fare bill which lawmakers passed last year.

  • The governor said that the pandemic's impact on ridership and the T's finances meant it was no time to implement a new fare program for the poor.
  • "Before instituting fees that are aimed at incentivizing certain travel behaviors, we need to understand what ridership and congestion patterns are going to look like after the pandemic," Baker wrote in a letter accompanying his veto.
  • Things are different now. The MBTA is fraught with safety and service problems, while the state is flush with cash from high tax revenues.

What's next: Sen. Lydia Edwards (D-East Boston) and Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston) are leading the charge to get both chambers of the legislature to pass the bill again this session.

  • If legislative leaders move quickly, they could pass it in time to override Baker's veto if he chooses to kill the program again.
  • If Democrats drag their heels and act after next Thursday, lawmakers will recess before they can override any potential Baker action.
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