Independent Group Comes Up With Proposal To Fund Late-Night MBTA Service

The MBTA Rider Oversight Committee thinks a new kind of college pass could be the solution to pay for later operating hours.

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As Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature continue to bicker about the best way to fund statewide transportation needs, an independent think tank comprised of MBTA riders, advocates, and employees has devised a plan based on customer feedback on how the T could fund late-night train service.

The MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, which operates on its own and discusses customer service improvements and service quality issues at their monthly meetings, will submit an official recommendation to MBTA board members on July 29, regarding a means to fund overnight service through the use of a re-envisioned college student pass program similar to those used by universities all around the country. Earlier this year, the committee tasked themselves with finding a way to make overnight service a reality by sending out a survey asking riders how they felt about adding the amenity. After receiving thousands of favorable responses, the committee put together their proposal, which offers ways to implement the service without adding to the MBTA’s existing debt load, according to their report.

Written by James Jay on behalf of the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, the report proposes the institution of a new student pass program that would provide “unlimited rides for no less than 100 percent of any college’s full-time student population.” Because the student population in Boston is so high—there are an estimated 250,000 college students attending school here each year—by adding this option at local colleges, everyone that used the T could benefit from longer train hours. “Considering this, if 100 percent of the Boston-area college student population purchased LinkPasses every month to  ride the MBTA, the MBTA could see tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue each year,” the report says. The plan would also get more students out of their cars, and free up parking spots in the city, while also benefitting the environment, the group’s report claims.

Currently, special T passes offered through colleges give students just an 11 percent discount when they buy the yearly option. Taking the lead from college student pass programs in Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, the group thinks the MBTA should offer a new type of pass at a significant discount and create an unlimited college student pass program, which would go beyond just funding later service. “In addition to supporting overnight service, the program is projected to bring in enough revenue to improve other MBTA services. Suggested services include additional handheld ticket validation personnel and equipment, additional fare evasion personnel, and the resumption of opening all doors on the Green Line at all times of the day,” Jay wrote in the detailed report.

By the committees calculations, if just half of the college students in the Boston-area were equipped with an unlimited transit pass offered at a 50 percent discount, the MBTA would see $43 million every year in revenue from the new program.

As part of the proposal, if the T were interested, students would first be required to vote on the pass program before it is implemented at any given college. Then, colleges would need to pay for all passes for eligible students around the beginning of the term, which would allow unlimited subway and bus rides for those that opt in.

When comparing their proposal with that of cities like Milwaukee and Chicago, Jay and the Oversight Committee determined that the MBTA would have some advantages based on the availability of buses and trains near various schools, and could also learn from the successes and failures of the other initiatives. “Without question, transit is a large draw to the current college generation. It is a significant factor in attracting and driving away students from a city. City halls are constantly looking for ways to attract college students and retain them after graduation. Unlimited college student pass programs have aided in both of these areas,” he said.

The group will present their report at 5 p.m. on July 29, at the State Transportation Building in Boston.