By Laura Plummer
Chelsea residents and MBTA officials mingled at the Chelsea Senior Center on Tuesday, February 19, where the MBTA sought community feedback on three new system-wide changes on the horizon: a proposed fare hike, a bus system improvement initiative dubbed The Better Bus Project, and an upgraded program for managing ticket purchases called Automated Fare Collection 2.0.
The event was the first meeting in a series that the Transit Authority is hosting in the Greater Boston area throughout February and early March. Other cities and communities on the list include Quincy Center, Woburn, South Boston, Harvard Square, Downtown Boston, Watertown and Worcester.
Departing from the traditional town hall-style meeting, there was no speaker or agenda. Rather, officials from the MBTA were stationed at a horseshoe of tables featuring large informational posters and fliers in Spanish and English. Residents from the Chelsea community were invited to circulate from station to station in order to learn about the proposed changes, ask questions and provide oral and written feedback.
The MBTA is looking to increase fares by an average of 6.3%, which, according to its website, it needs in order to “continue making system investments to improve service.”
The increase, which is aligned with Boston’s inflation rate, also meets the State law allowing the MBTA to raise their rates no more than 7% every two years. The fare hike, which would go into effect in July, would be the first since 2016.
The 6.3% increase would be applied to all fares, including bus and subway, commuter rail, ferry, and The RIDE.
In terms of the most common fares and passes, a local one-way bus ticket would go from $1.70 to $1.80. A one-way subway ticket would go from $2.25 to $2.40. A monthly LinkPass would go from $84.50 to $90.00, and a 7-Day LinkPass would go from $21.25 to $22.50.
Those interested can read more about the proposed fare hike at mbta.com/fare-proposal-2019. Comments can be emailed to [email protected], or mailed to MBTA, Attn: Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116. Respondents can also share their opinions via an online survey available at surveymonkey.com/r/6TW8FFQ.
THE BETTER BUS PROJECT
Another project on the table is The Better Bus Project, an expansive initiative looking to overhaul the entire bus service of the MBTA. Its current projected rollout date is 2020.
“Too many of our bus routes still fail to live up to our own standards,” states the MBTA on its web site. “Through the Better Bus Project, we are changing that. Every day we’re finding new ways to improve the experiences of the people who use and ride our buses.”
The Better Bus Project would be comprised of five distinct elements: continuous change, analysis, proposed near-term changes, multi-year investment strategy and the Bus Network Redesign.
Continuous change refers to changes that can be made incrementally over time as the opportunities arise. Analysis includes reports generated from a period of outreach in which the MBTA surveyed riders most affected by gaps in service.
“Riders want more frequent, more reliable service,” said the MBTA. “They want more routes that run more often throughout the day—not just during peak service hours. And we learned […] that there are too many routes, too many complex routes, and too few routes with frequent, all-day service.”
Proposed near-term changes for The Better Bus Project include 47 specific suggestions for the consolidation of duplicate routes, the increase of space at bus stops and the elimination of some obsolete bus routes.
One of the 47 proposed projects is Route 111, which runs from Haymarket through Chelsea to Revere. The MBTA aims to “provide faster and more reliable service to Route 111 by removing service on Park Avenue in Revere, with connection remaining via Route 110,” according to a Better Bus Project flier.
A multi-year investment strategy will kick off a dialog about how to best leverage resources to improve the bus system as a whole, taking into account what riders want and need.
The ambitious Bus Network Redesign would re-envision the current MBTA bus network in the hopes of better serving passengers.
To learn more about The Better Bus Project and share your input, go to mbta.com/projects/better-bus-project.
AUTOMATED FARE COLLECTION 2.0
Citing an outdated system, the MBTA hopes that its new project will make paying for transit easier. With the introduction of AFC 2.0, the MBTA hopes to “improve customer experience, ensure equal access, upgrade outdated hardware and software, improve revenue control, operate buses and trains more efficiently and support future MBTA changes and growth.”
According to the MBTA, passengers will be able to pay their fares faster with improved Charlie Cards, a smartphone app, different payment options and digital fare readers. Under the new system, passengers will be able to conveniently reload their Charlie Cards in a number of venues, from schools and employers, online, over the phone, retailers and an increased number of vending machines.
MBTA employee Anthony Thomas explained that people could still use cash to reload their Charlie Cards at a number of locations throughout the city, but that cash would no longer be an option for paying on buses. The idea is to reduce the long bus queues, resulting in faster routes.
“Our new fare system will get you moving faster,” said the MBTA. “It’ll also get our vehicles moving faster (by up to 10% according to some estimates).”
These changes would not be rolled out all at once, but would overlap with the current technologies available, some of them in place for over a decade. In this way, the MBTA hopes to have a seamless transition to the new system.
For more information about AFC 2.0 and to submit your feedback, visit afc2.mbta.com.