Anthony Golden / Gavel Media

The T Isn't Free

For college students in the greater Boston area, the T is a huge asset. Its low price makes navigating the city on a budget possible. If you’ve taken the T though, you've probably noticed that it’s easy to avoid paying the $2.75 fare (or $2.25 with a Charlie Card). Most people enter through the front of the train to pay; however, fare dodging on the T is as simple as entering through the side doors when they frequently open to let passengers off the train. The solution, however, is not simple. Allowing passengers to enter only through the front of the train results in congestion and crowding, and the lack of fare gates makes the whole issue worse.

Some people who enter through side doors have monthly passes, but it is hard to make sure that those are legitimate because they look exactly the same as regular Charlie Cards. Nefarious risk-takers can hold up a Charlie Card or an expired pass, and the conductor will not be able to tell the difference. Even more egregiously, some people just take a picture of a pass and get away with giving the conductor a quick glimpse of it on their phone.

Fare evasion cuts into revenues and presents a huge problem—the MBTA is approximately $5.3 billion in debt, which reduces the funds available to invest in the many issues the MBTA currently faces, such as aging infrastructure and train malfunctions in cold weather. According to the Boston Globe, the MBTA is losing $42 million per year from fare evasion across all of its transport services, and Green Line riders are among the worst in terms of avoiding payment.

Anthony Golden / Gavel Media

Anthony Golden / Gavel Media

Some measures have been put in place to curtail fare evasion, but so far none have been completely effective. At some above ground stops, MBTA employees stop customers to validate their fares. There are only a few employees at each station, so they can’t validate the fares of all the customers. The other day while I was stopped at Fenway Station to have my fare validated, I noticed a number of people walked past me, straight into the station without paying.

The MBTA is focusing on installing fare validators at the side doors, but this plan won’t be complete for another two or three years; until then it relies on its customers’ honesty when there are no conductors at the side doors. People intent on not paying will easily be able to ride for free and the MBTA will continue to lose money.

Short of completely revamping the T, which would require large sums of money the MBTA does not have, the best solution seems to be punishing those who avoid paying fares. Recently, the MBTA tested out fining people $100 if they were found evading fares. A proof-of-payment system with fines significantly higher than the fare itself would be effective because it would stop people from seeing fare evasion as a risk worth taking.

Similar methods are effectively employed in many other cities such as Berlin, where inconspicuously-dressed public transit employees conduct random validation checks to keep people on their toes. The MBTA does not want to invest in measures like these, but fining evaders would be more effective than side door fare validators because it hits at the root of fare evasion—saving money.