BOSTON — It’s like a high-speed scratch ticket — jump onboard, take a chance and you might win a free ride. If there’s no conductor on the Commuter Rail, viewers tell WBZ-TV it’s like you don’t even need a ticket.
And they say it happens a lot.
Len Berkowitz recorded his morning commute. He said that 40% of the time, the Commuter Rail was free for him. “No sign of any conductors today. I don’t know why people even buy tickets,” said Berkowitz.
Kate Elmendorf bought a mobile ticket but didn’t have to activate it. “Kind of convenient because if I want to use the ticket again I can,” she said.
Patty Connelly pre-pays for her monthly pass though. She said watching others not pay a fare isn’t fair. “So I’ve paid in advance and there’s a bunch of other people who didn’t pay at all.”
David Wade decided to test it out himself. Over a couple of months, he took six rides, buying and activating tickets on his phone each time.
He only had his ticket checked once.
So how widespread of a problem is this?
Pre-pandemic, the Commuter Rail brought in about $250 million a year. The T estimates it loses about 4-8% when fares aren’t collected. That’s a yearly loss of $10-20 million.
Four-to-eight percent of uncollected fare actually seems low for how often it happens to riders WBZ-TV spoke to. Either way, that’s no drop in the bucket for a system that’s strapped for cash.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak acknowledged it’s a problem. “You’re right this money does add up,” he said.
But Poftak thinks brand new fare gates at North Station are the answer. They went online this weekend. Passengers must use a ticket or scan a ticket on their phone just to get near the Commuter Rail platform.
The same system will be installed at South Station and Back Bay.
“What this is going to do is allow us to essentially wipe out this problem,” Poftak said.
A problem that has cost the MBTA tens of millions of dollars through the years — it’s a nice perk for riders but a big pain in the caboose for the T.