MBTA OFFICIALS on Wednesday pleaded with transit authority board members to quickly approve regulations dealing with fare evasion so the T will no longer be forced to turn a blind eye to passengers jumping turnstiles and boarding buses and trolleys without paying.
Lynsey Heffernan, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for policy and transit planning, said the T finds itself in this situation because the law on fare evasion was amended in 2020 but new regulations to implement the statute have not been approved yet.
In a presentation to a subcommittee of the full board, which meets on Thursday, Heffernan said UMass researchers have been retained to investigate how big a problem fare evasion is at the T. She indicated it could be pretty big, noting that the percent of riders who are fare evaders in Washington, DC, jumped from 14 percent in 2019 to 29 percent in 2022 and from 18 to 31 percent in New York City. The New York numbers appear to be for bus riders.
Unlike the MBTA, both the Washington and New York systems have had fare evasion policies in place and are stepping up enforcement.
In May 2021, the last time the MBTA tried to gain approval for fare evasion regulations, the agency faced pushback from its former oversight board — the Fiscal and Management Control Board. Board members thought the proposal was too harsh. They thought the initial fine of $50 was too high and should be lowered to $10. They also pressured the T to institute a discounted fare for low-income riders.
The members of the subcommittee on Wednesday indicated they also have concerns about the fare evasion regulations (for more on the regulations, click here), but they didn’t mention the size of the fines or the need for a low-income fare. Their chief concern seemed to be that the regulations were toothless
MBTA board member Scott Darling, for example, asked what would happen if he was given a ticket and didn’t appeal it or pay it.
Heffernan acknowledged there is currently no mechanism to require payment of fines.
She said the statute allows the T to refer the names of delinquent payers to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which could demand payment before reissuing a license or a registration. But Heffernan said the T decided not to pursue that course because getting an accurate name from the violator may not be possible, since T riders are not required to carry identification. She said the T also felt it was punitive to deny a person a driver’s license based on the failure to pay a couple bus or subway fares.
Heffernan said the T has explored the possibility of denying future service to fare evaders, but she said that would be “tricky.”
Board members raised concerns about the T’s plan to hire 32 fare compliance officers — which is less than half what T officials originally proposed – to supplement the efforts of the MBTA police. And they questioned the T’s overall enforcement strategy.
Heffernan said she’d be happy to address the board members’ concerns, but she urged them to quickly approve the regulations on Thursday at the full board meeting so the T will finally have some tools in place to enforce fare compliance.
Darling seemed astonished at the T’s predicament.
“What happens if I’m a transit police person and I see someone jump over a fare gate? What power do I have?” asked Darling.
“Until these regulations are passed, the Transit Police cannot issue a ticket,” Heffernan said.
“But they’ve got to be able to do something because this person broke the law,” Darling said.
“Until the MBTA issues regulations, we’re in that loophole,” Heffernan said.