State House News Service

MBTA Ridership On Decline Since Fare Hikes

BOSTON — MBTA ridership has declined over the past 10 months, with ridership dropping more steeply so far in 2013, according to data released to the News Service.

From last July, when fare increases went into effect, ridership is down 1.9 percent compared to the same period of fiscal year 2012, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told the News Service.

“But the drop in ridership was much lower than the pre-fare increase projection of a decrease of 5.5 %,” Pesaturo wrote in an email. He also said the MBTA is on track to beat fare revenue expectations leading to a $16.6 million surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

After a contentious series of public hearings and a $49 million one-time state bailout, the MBTA raised fares an average of 23 percent, including steeper increases for seniors. Ridership initially rose slightly after the fare hikes, but then wavered and has been down since December.

Comparing by calendar year, increases throughout the first half of 2012 were enough to end the year with about 2.4 percent more riders than in 2011.

The transit agency is still in fiscal turmoil, since it’s depending on revenues from a still-developing tax-raising legislation. The House and Senate have passed similar versions of a roughly $500 million tax plan to raise transportation funds, but there is no guarantee Gov. Deval Patrick will sign the final version, as he has criticized the Legislature’s plan as too small to accomplish what needs to be done in transportation.

The MBTA is one target for additional transportation funds, which would also fund highways and regional transit authorities. The Conservation Law Foundation calculated that over five year’s Patrick’s plan would increase transportation spending by $858 million annually, the House would increase it by $504 million and the Senate by $602 million.

When the Transportation Board passed the $1.86 billion MBTA budget in late March, it left a $118 million gap to be filled by anticipated tax legislation. If the tax revenue failed to materialize, that would mean additional fare hikes and service cuts, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said at the time.

Last year’s fare hikes had less of a drain on ridership than had been projected, and the decline was more modest in the months immediately following the fare hike. But from December through April, every month has featured ridership declines compared to the same month a year ago.

Since December 2012, ridership has been down a monthly average of 2.9 percent compared to the year prior, according to MBTA data.

A dip of 3.5 percent in April was due in part to the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, the April 19 manhunt and the related public transit shutdown or temporary station closures, Pesaturo said.

“Ridership fell significantly in the immediate days following the bombings, and of course, service was shut down completely for almost fourteen hours on April 19th,” Pesaturo said.

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  • dust truck

    Given the choice between soul-crushing traffic along the Southeast Expressway and spending about $70 more on public transportation vs. car expenses, I’ll take the T any day. Even when it’s service is bad, it’s still better than being stuck under Milton Square and going 5mph.

  • Jasoturner

    If you can raise rates by 23% and lose less than 2% of ridership, then it sounds like the T still offers a good value proposition to many commuters. Which it does.

    There’s nothing like being stuck in 5:00 p.m. commuter traffic at the Pike/128 interchange to make you want to haul out a gun and start shooting people. I’ll take the train any day.

    Off topic, but how many millions of gallons of gas and hours of time would be saved for commuters if the tolls were finally ripped out? The stupidity of keeping that traffic fiasco in place never ceases to surprise me.

  • Free Public Transit

    Why do we try to get money by taking from those who are saving energy?

    • dust truck

      saving energy != totally eliminating all costs

  • Lil Brown Bat

    “If you can raise rates by 23% and lose less than 2% of ridership, then it sounds like the T still has a captive audience. Which it does.”

    Fixed that for ya.

    • dust truck

      what do you mean by “captive”? Forced to ride the T due to circumstances or something?

  • Kludge A. Factor

    Sad but true, driving into Boston and parking has become cheaper and more convenient than the MBTA for those of us who only go into Boston on evenings and weekends.

    MBTA: 40 min. round-trip to the nearest station, pay $6 for parking, $4 for the round-trip fare, waiting for the train, spend at least 15 minutes each way on the train.

    Driving: 60 minutes round-trip, pay $8 for parking on a weekend, free on evenings for a spot on the street, which can almost always be found, freedom from the T schedule.

    Even factoring in the increased gas mileage, it’s a no-brainer. I love public transportation, but the economics just don’t work anymore.

    • dust truck

      8$ for parking on weekend? What events do you go to? ‘Round the theater district it’s $20 on weekends and no street parking because the residential neighborhoods take priority.

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