Boston Globe by Adam Vaccaro
In 2015, the T took a major step toward income-based fares with a discount program called Youth Pass, for young people who are not in school. The program was expanded in 2016 to include riders up to age 25 who receive public benefits or meet job-training requirements.
“I use it for food, or to help my parents pay rent,” said Adela Gonzalez, a 20-year-old Chelsea resident. She is a Youth Pass user and helps distribute them for the nonprofit group GreenRoots. “For me, it adds up, having the extra $50,” she said.
Massachusetts officials have batted around the idea of a discount for years. Shortly after T service collapsed in the winter of 2015, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack floated a radical restructuring of fares that included reduced prices for low-income riders. The T has also suggested the new fare-collection system coming in 2020 could make it easier to use different fare structures, because each fare card would be linked to a rider’s personal account.
On Thursday, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that as the T installs new fare technology in 2020, it will review how discounts could affect ridership and revenue.
Activists feel emboldened by a recent agreement in principle in New York City to subsidize fares for as many as 800,000 residents who live below the poverty line. Beginning in January, those who are eligible would be able to ride New York subways and buses for half off the $2.75 fare, according to published accounts. New York would join a handful of other US cities where low-income riders get discounts, including Seattle and San Francisco.
“We’re seeing this happen in cities that have had incredible development the last couple of years, but also staggering income inequality,” said Andrew McFarland, community engagement manager for the Livable Streets Alliance, a Cambridge-based transportation advocacy group.
He and other activists point to the Youth Pass as a potential model for a broader low-income discount. Riders 18 to 25 years old in Boston and a dozen suburbs who receive benefits such as food stamps or MassHealth are eligible for half-price fares. About 2,250 riders get discounted trips with the Youth Pass.
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