Some Quick Easy Fixes

Well, it looks like the doomsday threats are coming back, and this time on top of the threats of killing weekend commuter rail are the threats of ending all bus service after 11:00 PM and cutting 30 bus routes. Here are some simple fixes that the MBTA should consider.

1: MassDOT merged everyone together into a bickering blended family. They should own up to their Big Dig debt.
As much as the crowd outside of 495 will claim that they should not pay for the debt of the Big Dig because it’s solely inside Boston, truth is that it is a utility for the entire Commonwealth and beyond. The Big Dig benefits just as much benefits those from Salisbury to Sheffield to Sandwich as it does for those in Southie and Somerville with improved vehicular capacity through town, improved access to Logan, and more.  When the Commonwealth merged everyone under the MassDOT umbrella, they should have demerged the Big Dig debt which the Cellucci Administration forced upon the MBTA for something they really did not contribute to. One umbrella, one debt.

2: Merge some lesser bus routes into singular routes.
Several years back when the Port Authority in Pittsburgh had their own Doomsday cuts, they ended up merging several routes which shared a common terminal into singular routes to help boost efficiency and maintain as much service as possible. I was going to suggest these in a proposal post but here are a few which could be done.

  • Merging the 62 and 76 full-time as the current 62/76 operates on Saturdays.
  • Combining either the 70 or 70A with the 91, running straight through Central between Waltham and Sullivan.
  • At least on middays and weekends, merging the 108 with the local portion of the 426 (which would help West Lynn, East Saugus, and northeastern Revere as the Blue Line will  soon be an eunuch).
  • The 354 is extended over the local portion of the 352 after rush hours. As much as it’d be bad for Burlington commuters outside of 95/128, making this the core route would not be  bad thing.
  • Merge the 131 and the northern/eastern portion of the 430 while terminating the 430 at Square One Mall. This would not only add an elusive bus connection between Saugus and Melrose, but would also redirect the 430’s resources where it’s needed.

(Everyone, join in and leave your suggestions in the comments!)

3: Make pass prices resemble something resembling reality.
Right now a weekly pass ($18) is only 1.6 times the cost of a one-day pass ($11) and is equal to nine rail rides paid via CharlieCard. I understand the one-day pass is a bit of a tourist tax but seriously the weekly pass could be raised to around $24 and still be seen as a bargain. Similarly, $70 for a monthly pass is still quite low compared to the MBTA’s peer agencies and could be hiked beyond $80 and still be seen as a bargain.

4: Charge for CharlieCards (and maybe CharlieTickets too)
When I was living in and around DC,the initial cost for a SmarTrip was (as is now) $5. In contrast, the CharlieCard is free. I’m not saying to emulate WMATA – nobody ever should – but even if the MBTA charged as little as $2 for a CharlieCard it’d make some money. Imagine how much they could’ve made over the last eight years off of CharlieCards for a nominal fee.
Similarly, the MTA in New York is now charging $1 for a new MetroCard. I think even a 50 cent surcharge on getting a new CharlieTicket would raise some extra funds and would show those that use them that getting a CharlieCard would be a good move to make.

5: One More Quarter
Compared to peer agencies, even with last year’s fare increases CharlieCard fares are still cheap at $1.50 for bus and $2.00 for rail. Hiking these by a quarter while leaving the $2.00/$2.50 cash fare as-is would still have the MBTA on the low end of their peer agencies. Ideally, going to one united fare would be good but the insistence of having bus be cheaper than rail would need to be put on the back burner.

6: Peak hour MBCR surcharges
Being from the New York area, I’m used to the concept of a peak-hour surcharge on both Metro North and the LIRR, charging a higher fare going into Penn/Grand Central in the morning and out in the evening. I know the MBCR lines don’t have the intensive levels of service that their New York counterparts have, but a surcharge of a couple of dollars for trains during rush hour would help raise some extra money from suburbanites. There are some problems with this, namely if the Zone 1A and Fairmount Line stations should be made exempt or not, but it’s worth the thought.

7: Take one for the team, Local 589
With service cuts come the inevitable complaints about unionized labor and all the negative stereotypes of unions and the “typical” unionized employee. While Local 589 doesn’t have the overtime abuse problems of TWU 100 and the other MTA unions or the mass corruption at ATU 689 at WMATA, I think that it might be a good PR move for Local 589 to make some concessions to help protect their jobs. Given the choice between voluntarily taking a pay rollback of a couple of percent and having jobs flat-out eliminated, I’d be willing to take that most Local 589 members would seriously consider the former. Such a move would be a sign of solidarity and would send a good message to a union-cynical public in a time when unions need the good PR.

I have one other bigger idea I’ll share in another post, but these would be better than getting rid of all weekend Commuter Rail service or ending bus service a good two hours before subway service. Then again, doomsday is doomsday and often doomsday never comes.




4 thoughts on “Some Quick Easy Fixes

  1. I always thought it would be interesting to combine the 77 and the 1 into a sort of a “super bus route,” but that would probably be too long of a route, and would most likely require the purchase of some articulated buses.

    • Merging the 1 and 77 is such low-hanging fruit that I’ve been meaning to do a post on it. It could be done IF they bought a semi-dedicated artic fleet with left hand doors and New Flyer has done artics with left-hand doors for the BRT lines in Cleveland and Eugene.

      The other issue would be to split one route between two garages on a round-the-clock basis. Would they be up to sending 1/77’s from Charlestown/Somerville and Southampton without any drama happening? It’s a challenge but would be worth it.

  2. I agree with charging a small fee for the charlie card – $1 or so would be an easy source of revenue. I guess the charge though would limit where cards could be obtained as they wouldn’t be strewn about certain stations haphazardly like they are now.

    (I’ve always wondered why there can’t be a machine that dispenses these cards. I assume the technology isn’t there yet, but it just seems like a pain to have to go to a separate store to buy a card when most of the time you go to a station and then want to buy a ticket. I understand cash on board fees for buses and above ground t stations, but it does seem ridiculous to me that someone gets hit with the same extra fee if they are at an underground station and don’t have a card. It’s a tourist penalty if you ask me and that’s not really fair. But that’s a different post…)

    Raising bus and subway fees a quarter also seems reasonable to me. It sucks, but it is still a comparable price to other markets, and honestly increases should be in round amounts like that so people are scrounging around for change.

    I am biased here, but I don’t think I can support increasing the monthly pass to over $80 when just last year it was $60. That’s a crazy increase in a short amount of time, especially for people on fixed income and college students. (Full disclosure: I’m a full-time grad student with a required 30-hour/wk. unpaid internship who relies on the mbta to get everywhere and has held a monthly pass for years.) Would you support an increase in the price of the monthly bus only pass as well?

    I’m also familiar with the peak surcharge and have accepted it on my trips back to Long Island to see family. It would make sense to me to have something like that for the commuter rail, but I don’t think I could support it for the subway like the Metro in DC does. Again, I’m biased because I don’t often take the commuter rail and I see the t as a completely separate entity.

    I like the idea of combining bus routes but the ones I take most often (1, 47, 57, 66, 77) are already long enough haha. I defer to your expertise on this one 🙂


  3. I know the idea of mandating an MBTA pass for Boston’s student populations was floated during the last round of hikes and cuts. If all BU, Northeastern, BC, Emerson, Harvard, MIT, etc. students had a monthly Charlie Card “included” in their tuition, it would help raise funds while cutting down on a population that perhaps jumps the till a bit more than the rest of the population. Plus, honestly, when you’re paying $50k a year, what’s another $80/month?

    If they do decide to hike fares, there should be some consideration for those that Nikki mentions, people on fixed incomes, low to moderate income families, and students. A family that currently has to pay for T passes for two adults and two children is looking at going from $240 to $360/mo in under a year. That’s crazy! I am a single adult, I can definitely afford to pay more each month, but there really should be a provision for those who are most vulnerable to these types of hikes.

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