Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's Not Fare

An article today in the Globe discussed the increase in ridership on the MBTA here in Boston. However, due to more people riding the trains, experts say that an increase in the fare is certain to hit in the coming years. I myself have a solution/criticism that I've been mentioning now for quite a few years:

STOP GIVING OUT CHARLIE CARDS LIKE CANDY!

In Boston, riders have two choices to pay their fares: either purchase a Charlie Ticket or put money onto their Charlie Card. A Charlie Ticket is disposable and allows a rider to put stored value onto the card only a single time. Rides on the subway are $2 with a Charlie Ticket and are dispensed from any machine. These are generally used for single or double rides.

A Charlie Card on the other hand is a plastic card that you may put money on as many times as you want. Charlie Cards enable the rider to pay a slightly lowered fare of $1.70 to ride the subways and buses. Charlie Cards must be given to your by an MBTA worker or are generally found frayed out along the tops of the fare machines free for the taking. Essentially they should only be available to people who live in and commute to work in Boston. However because of their accessibility and the MBTA's unknown need to keep creating them and throwing them into riders' faces, everybody (even tourists) hold a Charlie Card. What is the sense of fare reduction for the loyal in that?


There is no reason why a tourist family in Boston for a week should all be wielding Charlie Cards. If you add up the $0.30 per ride per family member that they're saving for having been given access to those cards, it starts to add up into money that could be in the MBTA's hands. And while many might think that tourists to the city should be purchasing seven-day-passes, most tourists hold a Charlie Card which is handed to them by fare agents when they inquire about how to use the machines.

What the MBTA should do is discontinue throwing out these plastic cards. Frequent riders themselves either already have a plastic card, or they purchase monthly passes which negates this argument. Either way, by ending the plastic card's seemingly endless promotion, it would enable visitors to the city to cough up the $2 required of them for using our public transit system, allowing the reduced fare to remain in the hands (and on the cards) of the residents of this city.

Let's step away from this for a second. While I was in Beijing, China a few years back the city made a switch to plastic transit cards much like the plastic Charlie Cards of Boston. The difference: to obtain a card in Beijing a rider had to pay a deposit fee of 20RMB to be granted access to discount fares. In that sense alone the Beijing transit authority brought in loads of money: nearly all residents in the city held a card, which meant that the authority held 20RMB for each resident upfront to be used to improve the system. And since having a card was so vital and extremely more efficient than paying a bus conductor, the authority was basically guaranteed that riders would not return their card and request their 20RMB back.

And then flash to Boston where plastic cards are lying on the ground in front of fare machines and available to anyone. In fact, I myself have about a dozen Charlie Cards from days when I forgot my plastic card at home but just grabbed an extra one sitting atop a fare machine. I should have paid $2 for my forgetfulness, but since the MBTA wants to throw some cards in my face, I'm inclined to take them.

Just one suggestion this rider has to improve the Boston transit system.

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