Why can't the T have a simple fare structure?

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Why can't the T have a simple fare structure?

Postby Mdlbigcat » Sun Jan 16, 2005 5:42 pm

Can anyone explain the byzantine fare structure of the T? Even the mumbo-jumbo that is WMATA's fare structure is better understood than the T's fare structure. Can anyone explain these fare structures?

1] One fare for buses, another [higher] fare for the subway

2] Why the Green Line charges a fare inbound, but it is free outbound

3] The zone fares charged on the Braintree Red Line, and the D Riverside line

4] Do you have transfers between modes [buses to subway/light rail/Silver Line]

When I visited Boston in September, I used a daily pass so I did not have to figure out the strange fare structure.

Here at SEPTA, the fare structure is very simple if you use a daily/weekly/monthly pass. The Day pass is good anywhere on Transit, while the weekly/monthly passes are used according the how many zones mentioned on the pass [but the zone restrictions are gone on the weekends, all passes go anywhere on anything SEPTA runs].

In NJ, my monthly bus pass is good for the number of zones [3] traveled, PLUS, I can use the pass anywhere in the state. I live in South Jersey, but I can use the pass in Atlantic City, Trenton, and North Jersey, as well as use the light rail lines in the north [Newark City Subway] and the south [RiverLINE]. the only thing I cannot use my bus pass on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
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Postby efin98 » Sun Jan 16, 2005 6:55 pm

The fares are zone based, go through more than one zone and you pay more...Buses and trains are seperate from each other so naturally they have different fares...The outbound Green Line fare and the exit fares on the Braintree Branch perplex even the most seasoned riders, something in the politics and or the ridership keeping them alive.

And a simple "visitor's pass" or a "Combo Plus pass" solves the problems, they are good on all Green and Red Line trains and up to the first $2.50 or so on buses.
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Postby ckb » Sun Jan 16, 2005 9:12 pm

The Bus/Subway difference makes sense for (at least) two reasons.

1. The Subway is, in general, a much better service, but it clearly has more overhead -- makes sense to charge more for it on both counts.

2. The buses are regarded as providing more comprehensive service to poorer and more minority dominated regions than the subways. To increase the bus fare up to the subway fare -- you would have quite an outcry that you were raising fares against the group of people that have little alternative but can least afford the increase.

The Green Line outbound (except D line) is an operational issue since the T is unwilling to move to a POP system. The merits and de-merits of using this system on the T have been discussed in great depth on this forum. Since we're stuck with what we've got .... the system is easily explained as follows: The only time you don't have to pay is when you board an outbound trolley outside. Why? This allows all doors to open and speed the boarding/deboarding operations. The T doesn't lose too much revenue since the bulk of the traffic is coming from a downtown location (where you do have to get on)

I think the Braintree exit fare is historic. Doesn't affect most of us -- most folks don't have a real reason to travel down there unless you live there. It is the farthest trip one can take from Downtown on the subway lines.

The D line fares are a combination of history and operations. The line used to be (many many years ago) a railroad line. Some stations are still easily seen along the route. As a result, speeds are higher - no street or median running. You do get a better service. The higher fare also might make some people think twice about taking the D line -- the C or E lines are very close by until you get to Riverside. Again, you only get charged extra on the way on going Inbound. Outbound, same fares as the rest of the Green Line. The real complication here is the "Newton Local Coupon", but again, most riders don't have to deal with it.

Transfers exist between subway lines and the Silver Line. No transfers between bus and subway. Free transfers are given on request going from bus to bus. This was a fare-raising concession. If you raise fares on the busses, politically you might have to give the bus-subway transfers. Right now, the T would probably lose money on this deal. Look for something to happen once the "Charlie Card" thing settles down -- it will allow for all sorts of fare charging flexibility. I would not be at all surprised to see the bus fare rise to the subway fare, with a 25 or 50 cent fee for transferring between modes.

Finally, your comparison to Septa is somewhat off-base, like efin noted. Most daily riders pick up a monthly pass which greatly simplifies what you can ride. Commutter rail passes, especially, are zone-based, like you describe Septa to be. They are also entitled to the ride the subways and busses with those passes.

I think the WMATA fares are more complicated, but the cross-indexed signs near the fare-card machines are pretty useful in telling visitors exactly how much it will cost to get them where they want to go (although you do have the complexity of rush-hour fares).

Of the really big U.S. transit systems, I think New York has the clearest policies. Until you try to work with the very fragmented commuter rail systems ... and PATH ... and now the AirTrains ... yikes. I think since public transit is so political, once the system grows to a certain size you will have strange concessions in any fare system.
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Postby NJTKid01 » Sun Jan 16, 2005 9:57 pm

I totally think that the NYCT Subway & Bus system have the most simple and understable system in the entire Northeast. You could ride a subway train for 1 stop or ride it for 3 miles, its $ 2; regardless. I feel that this is the best way for the natives and visitors to understand the system. Rather than for a visitor or even a native ask the driver how they have to pay, even though they are going a short distance but they have to pay a different fare. Personally, I like the MBTA system, although its a bit hard to understand.
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Postby Ron Newman » Sun Jan 16, 2005 9:57 pm

No transfers between bus and subway


... except that there are a few, on the CT buses, the #1 at Mass. Ave., the #39 at Back Bay and Copley, and the Washington St. Silver Line (formerly #49 bus) at several downtown stations.

There are also some short segments of bus routes that are free, going from Dudley to Ruggles, and Egelston to Jackson (but not the other direction).
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Postby Silverliner II » Thu Jan 20, 2005 10:40 pm

ckb wrote:The Bus/Subway difference makes sense for (at least) two reasons.

1. The Subway is, in general, a much better service, but it clearly has more overhead -- makes sense to charge more for it on both counts.



The same can be said for SEPTA's subway lines. Better, frequent service, and more overhead too. Yet riders pay the same fares on the subway-elevated lines as well as the bus and trolley lines. So I will dispute that theory. If SEPTA tried to charge a seperate, higher fare for the subway-elevated lines here and eliminate transfers between the modes, you would have an outcry of Apopalyptic proportions.

In New York, the same Metrocard that you can use on the subways will get you on the buses.

In Washington, D.C., you will find three distinct fare structures:

1. The fares and zones for the District and the Maryland side (the easiest to decipher, IMO)

2. The many fare zones for the Virginia side with the special zones for Alexandria and Arlington

3. The fares for Metrorail (peak, off-peak, and the zones)

Washington doesn't even compare to Boston or Philadelphia. Even New York, through the Metrocard is in a league of their own.
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Postby RailBus63 » Fri Jan 21, 2005 9:26 am

The bus/subway fare difference does not make any sense to me. A ride should be a ride, period. Even worse is the lack of transfers from bus to subway. It favors those who can take a single subway or bus ride (or two buses with the free transfer) to get to their destination, and penalizes passengers who must use both a bus and subway train to get where they are going. Is that fair?

And it was not always this way - the Boston Elevated was known for its free streetcar-to-subway/elevated transfer at major stations such as Dudley, Sullivan Square, Maverick, Andrew and elsewhere.

The MBTA should develop a simplified fare structure with a single base fare with zones for outlying distances. One fare would get you where you are going, regardless of how many buses or trains were required. Bus transfers could be programmed to work in the new subway turnstiles, and transfer machines inside the stations could allow free transfers to buses (as is done in Toronto). I would hope that the new fare equipment the MBTA is buying would have enough flexibility to accommodate such a system.

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Postby ckb » Fri Jan 21, 2005 11:24 am

Wait, should a ride be a ride, or should it be two rides (a bus ride to a subway ride)?

In the current system, you pay for what you get. Under the proposal here to offer free subway-bus transfers -- you will often pay for what others get. Riders who just want the subway are paying for a potential bus transfer they aren't going to use. Bus riders not using the subway are paying for a subway ride they aren't using. (Many of the biggest bus ridership lines, i.e. the 1 and the 66 (the 39 is just an extension of the Green Line) although they cross multiple subway lines, do not seem designed to be subway feeder routes at all ...)

We've already seen that the MBTA is cash-strapped. Any free transfer program -- irrespective of whatever gains would be made in attracting greater ridership -- would neccesarily be accompanied by a significant fare increase. I don't care what benefits you get in terms of transferring -- $2 sure seems like a lot to ride many of the T's relatively short and infrequent bus routes. That bus-only price increase might just offset the ridership gains from bus-subway transferring.
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Postby octr202 » Fri Jan 21, 2005 11:37 am

Except, in a lot of cases, you don't pay for what you get. I ride from East Watertown to Kendall, a distance of about 5 miles. I have to pay 90 cents for the bus, and then $1.25 for the subway. Someone from, say, Melrose or Malden could get on the Orange Line to the Red Line, and only pay $1.25, becuase they have a subway trip to get to Kendall, instead of a combined one. Am I getting more service for more money, even though I've got a shorter trip?
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Postby RailBus63 » Fri Jan 21, 2005 4:14 pm

ckb wrote:Wait, should a ride be a ride, or should it be two rides (a bus ride to a subway ride)?


It's one ride - you have a single origin and a single destination. Why should it matter how many vehicles it takes to reach where you are going?

In the current system, you pay for what you get.


No, you don't. Bus-to-rail riders are penalized, while bus-to-bus and rail-to-rail riders are not. Using your logic, a subway rider should pay a new fare if they transfer from, say, the Green Line to the Red Line - after all, they are 'getting' two rides, right?

Under the proposal here to offer free subway-bus transfers -- you will often pay for what others get. Riders who just want the subway are paying for a potential bus transfer they aren't going to use. Bus riders not using the subway are paying for a subway ride they aren't using. (Many of the biggest bus ridership lines, i.e. the 1 and the 66 (the 39 is just an extension of the Green Line) although they cross multiple subway lines, do not seem designed to be subway feeder routes at all ...)


The problem is, it's all a historical accident as to why some routes are rail and others are bus. Separate fares would make sense if all routes had both a faster train option with limited stops and a slower bus option with local stops. But they don't - in many cases, a rider must take a bus, a train or some combination of the two to reach where they are going.

We've already seen that the MBTA is cash-strapped. Any free transfer program -- irrespective of whatever gains would be made in attracting greater ridership -- would neccesarily be accompanied by a significant fare increase.


Yes, a fare increase would be necessary, but I disagree that it would be a 'huge' one. If many riders are already taking a bus and a subway as part of their commute, and are paying separate fares for each, then they would actually see a slight decrease. The ones who would see an increase (and would scream the loudest) are those who are paying a single $0.90 fare and are using transfers to take multiple buses to reach their destination. There is no rational reason why other riders should be subsidizing those bus-only riders.

I don't care what benefits you get in terms of transferring -- $2 sure seems like a lot to ride many of the T's relatively short and infrequent bus routes.


Well, a rider paying a cash fare who is going from Inman Square in Cambridge to Park Street current pays $2.15 for a 2.8 mile trip. That sure seems like a lot to me when another rider going from Forest Hills to Oak Grove (12 miles) pays $1.25, and bus riders can take trips of six or eight miles or more for a single $0.90 fare and a transfer.

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Postby ckb » Fri Jan 21, 2005 9:27 pm

Thanks for setting me straight on this one guys -- I was thinking a bit too much of my own T habits. The question for fairness (fare-ness :-) ) is a complicated one indeed.

I think there should be (if there isn't already) a somewhat comprehensive study/simulation on this fare stuff before big changes are made. I'm still not convinced on how large/small a far increase would result in a maintained/increased revenue. I'll admit that increased ridership should be the number one priority in an ideal world, but the reality is that the T is already looking for places to save money .
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Postby Silverliner II » Sat Jan 22, 2005 9:39 am

I'll stay thankful for our one-fare system here on SEPTA, regardless of whether mode is subway, elevated, trolley, or bus. Especially since we face the potential of a $3.00 base fare by March 1st and a transit strike by March 15th if the cards fall the wrong way.......
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