WBUR

MBTA Takes Steps To Prevent Fare Evasion

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is trying out a new pilot project to help chip away at its mounting debt. The MBTA hopes to earn back lost revenue by cracking down on freeloaders through what it’s calling “fare blitzes.” These blitzes, which started a few months ago, are held at above-ground stations on the Green Line where it’s easiest to catch a free ride.

"Pay your fare... it's only fair!" Signs like this hope to discourage fare evaders on the T. (Beenish Ahmed for WBUR)

"Pay your fare... it's only fair!" Signs like this hope to discourage fare evaders. (Beenish Ahmed for WBUR)

“I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of that,” says Kelly Barry, as she watches MBTA personnel in bright orange vests ask dozens of passengers to prove they have enough fare to ride the T on a recent bitingly cold morning.

Her CharlieCard checked out this time, but she says lots of people board the T without paying for their trip.

“There are a lot of people who take advantage of, like, the morning rush hour or even the evening rush hour and just hop on,” Barry says.

“That’s the culture that has to change,” says Paul Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents area communities served by the T.

There aren’t hard numbers on the total amount that’s lost due to unpaid fares, but Regan estimates it’s probably a few million dollars a year.

He thinks most of the fare evasion occurs at above-ground stations on the Green Line where the fare blitzes are taking place. Regan says the blitzes are a good start, but he thinks it will take more than a few random checks at a handful of stations to really change things.

“You don’t want to give the impression that there are waves of enforcement,” Regan says. “You want the impression to be that you are going to get caught because that’s the only way we’re going to keep fares at a reasonable level.”

Regan says watching some passengers catch a free ride aggravates those who do pay — especially at a time when the MBTA is considering increasing fares to narrow a projected deficit of $161 million for next year.

Evolving Enforcement Process

The blitzes don’t cost the MBTA anything except some work productivity. Allison Sweeney is an administrative assistant for the MBTA who was asked to give up a couple of hours a month of her regular job to work blitzes.

When passengers are stopped, she says, “They’ll tell you up front that they have to load their card or that they’re going to pay on board.”

Since starting these blitzes, the MBTA has found that nearly one in 10 passengers stopped didn’t have sufficient fare. But the blitzes are aimed at encouraging patrons — not punishing them.

“This just reminds our customer that they should be paying their fare. And we think being visible out there would help people think twice before they would decide to use our system without paying,” says Jonathan Davis, the T’s general manager.

Most of the MBTA personnel working the blitzes don’t have the authority to issue tickets. So the MBTA is also insisting that passengers board only through the front-door during peak hours to keep people from slipping past drivers without paying for their trip.

It has also deployed both plainclothes and uniformed transit police officers to issue tickets for fare evasion at high-traffic stations. Davis says he’s working to bring in more enforcement and tougher deterrents to keep people from cheating the system — including raising the ticket fine from $15 to $75 for a first offense.

“I think, continue reinforcement through these fare blitzes,” Davis says, “and then for those who don’t get the message, [there are] the fines, and a higher fine.”

He says it’s an evolving process. The blitzes are just part of the plan to prevent fare evasion and get the MBTA on track for financial viability.

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  • Binarysaint

    betcha it still cost more to enforce than what is gained.
    most likely already did.

    • Guest

      But the article says  “The blitzes don’t cost the MBTA anything except some work productivity. ”  Since they don’t have $ to play with, I’m taking their word for it.

  • Anonymous

    What kind of cheapo will evade a $1.70 T ride? Geez, you never know how low people can sink. 

  • jwill

    One way to avoid this mess, is to not accept payment in coins on the buses and trolleys.  Either pre-load your card at a pay-station that accepts coins or buy a charlie ticket there.  If you need to pay on the bus/trolley only cash will be accepted (no change back).   You will then pay premium for the “convenience” of waiting to pay at the bus or if you are in a pinch and can’t get to a pay-station.    This will speed things up at the entrance points to the bus/trolley and reduce the number of people who skirt on through. 

    Another suggestion for the trolley in particular, why not set up an entrance area through plexiglass or fencing and make sure people pay before they enter this area and board the trolley.   It could be done at the most heavily trafficked areas such as Coolidge Corner,  Brigham Circle…

  • Guest

    The fine should be at LEAST $75.  When I was in NYC 8 years ago the fine was $75 for fare evasion.  

  • guest

    They do it in Paris and while people still try to evade, they (at least) get some revenue back.

  • organizerx

    Why not just have a swiping system before you enter the station, like all the underground stations? 

  • Lauren Fitch

    People also sneak into the Mass Ave stop from the Gainsborough St end. It’s ridiculous that there are such large gates there; the exit should have turnstiles instead. They look like they are intended to let wheelchairs through but since they’re at the top of a flight of stairs I don’t think they’re doing any good.

  • Lauren Fitch

     There’s no “station”. On some E line stops the trolley is a streetcar and you literally board in the middle of Huntington Ave.

  • Anonymous

    “This just reminds our customer that they should be paying their fare. And we think being visible out there would help people think twice before they would decide to use our system without paying,” says Jonathan Davis, the T’s general manager.  

    – Why is he calling people who don’t pay customers?

  • Anonymous

     People go through the “exit only” door to Sydney Street at JFK/UMass as people open the door to actually exit all the time. This happens probably 3 times a week as I am coming home from work.

    The $15 first offense fine is an insult to people who actually pay for the T.

  • Rich

    I’ve been taking the B line for over 1.5 years and I’ve only seen fare enforcement on the train once. They were waiting on the train for people coming in through the back doors checking to make sure that anyone who entered had a monthly pass on their Charlie Card. I think they need to do this far more often.

  • TM

    I think the fine for fare evasion should be higher than that. First time offenders should pay $100, and then go up from there, with possible arrest. They know what they’re doing and shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that.

    • Brody

      If someone doesn’t have a buck and change to get where they need to go what makes you think they have a hundred dollars? So what then, throw them in jail? Pretty sure that costs more

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