If you ride the T, you already know this: decades of underfunding are really starting to take a toll on the level of service. The red line is essentially always delayed, and even previously more reliable lines are now delayed on a regular basis.
The T is crucial to Greater Boston’s economy. And it’s dying of neglect.
Rather than subject this critical resource to more of the same, let’s rethink it: make the T free.
It’s reasonable to assume that a free ride on the T will change people’s calculations about how to get somewhere, and that ridership will increase as traffic decreases. The environmental benefits alone make this worth doing, but it has other benefits as well. Without dependable service, the T will stop being seen as a viable option, which will erode public support for funding, which will lead to a downward spiral where only people with no other options take an increasingly unreliable public transportation system. This will kill Downtown Boston as it has killed the downtowns of so many cities without viable public transportation. And if you’re going to locate your company in a suburban office park with no public transportation, why not do it in North Carolina where the rents and utilities are cheaper?
On the other hand, free MBTA service means a significant incentive for more people to choose the T. And the larger the ridership, the larger and more important the pool of public transportation advocates becomes.
Free MBTA service would undoubtedly help tourism (bring your family of 4 to Boston and save over a hundred bucks in T fares on a 3-day weekend!), and, even better, would put money back into the pockets of people who really need it. Right now we’ve got people spending 4 bucks a day to get to and from minimum-wage jobs. This means minimum wage workers are essentially working two days a month just to pay for the privilege of getting to work. That’s crazy, and free MBTA service will redress this injustice.
But how will we pay for it? Where’s the 500+ million dollars a year that currently comes from fares going to come from?
I suggest congestion pricing. Mass Pike and Tobin Bridge commuters have long complained that I-93 commuters are not paying their share. They are right. Let’s put tolls in Somerville and Quincy and jack up the prices between 7 and 9 in the morning and between 3 and 6 at night. Make Storrow and Memorial Drives into toll roads during rush hour. Do the same for Route 9 on the Newton/Brookline line and Route 2 on the Cambridge/Lexington line. I haven’t done the math–indeed, I don’t know how to do the math, but this has to be a really good start on pulling 500 million a year into the budget. It will also have the desirable effect of keeping the traffic reductions that come about as a result of free MBTA service from disappearing.
I’m not an expert on any of this. I’m just a guy who takes the T. I’d love to hear thoughts of anybody who knows more than I do.