Happening Now

The Price is Right

May 9, 2019

Advocating for "fair" fares and equity in public transportation

by Joe Aiello | Northeast Field Coordinator

One of the biggest topics that any agency or advocate can tackle in this day and age is that of equity, especially when it comes to the world of public transportation. How do we even the playing field for every passenger, every line, and every neighborhood? This is a subject that we here at the Association has been talking about for some time.

Our friends at TransitMatters have broached the topic in their Regional Rail plan with a fare integration policy that makes the entire MBTA system more accessible to the low- and moderate- income residents who are only served by the much more expensive commuter rail.

Photo Credit: TransitMatters

In their report, they point out that this model has already been used by the MBTA:

The success of this concept is evident on the Fairmount Line, where ridership has tripled since 2012 after most of its stations were placed into Zone 1A, which lets users ride for the same fare as the subway.

The nine-mile long Fairmount Line, the entirely of which is within the city limits of Boston, is the the only rail link to some of the city’s largest low-income and minority areas. The overwhelmingly positive reaction to the pricing change prompted StreetBlog USA, in 2017, to say that the “Fairmount Line could be a national model for commuter rail” - but it’s not without its problems.

One of the concerns from that article on why the route is not quite there yet is that the MBTA’s monthly Charlie Card passes cannot be used. This problem is something that the agency was hoping to solve with the new AFC 2.0 system that they wanted to debut systemwide in 2021 - but, sadly, in “who didn’t see this coming?” fashion the system is now being delayed indefinitely.

A similar situation is happening in my hometown of Chicago with the Metra Electric line - which serves the south side of the city. Currently, fares on this line range from $4 to $5.50 per ride, as opposed to the $2.50 on the CTA. A bill being introduced by State Representative Marcus Evans Jr. (D- IL 33) would put the fares on equal footing.

“Fair” fares are only one step in truly fighting the problem of equity in public transportation (which is why the subject goes hand-in-hand with all-day frequent regional service in most instances) but it is the RIGHT step.