• NO FARE: On Commuter Rail, some commuters often ride for free

    By: Kerry Kavanaugh

    Updated:

    BOSTON - It’s the number one complaint on the commuter rail: Passengers riding for free.

    Commuters told 25 Investigates they see it all the time.

    “When the train is really, really packed, they don’t really collect fares,” said Kingston-Plymouth line commuter Michael Cole.

    “I must admit, in the past, I’ve been one of those people who got away with it," Framingham-Worcester commuter Howard Barnes confessed. 

    Riders tells 25 Investigates, the more people on the train, the less likely they are to see conductors collecting fares.

    "Trains are very crowded. Sometimes it’s difficult for the conductors to get fares collected. They seem to need more conductors," said Franklin Line commuter Kathy Levine.

    MBTA fares spiked 6% on July 1.

    Mary Connaughton with the public policy watchdog, Pioneer Institute, says if the Commuter Rail needs money, they should make sure they’re not leaving money on the table first.

    “The issue is the T still has an operating deficit. So, every dollar that they don’t collect, is a lost opportunity,” said Connaughton. 

    According to commuter rail operator, Keolis, ridership more than doubled on the Commuter Rail on Tuesday, Feb. 5 when thousands of fans packed trains to cheer at the Patriots’ Super Bowl Parade. 

    But, 25 Investigates found revenue did not see that jump.

    According to data obtained through an open records request, revenue on Parade Day hit $496,407.

    But, when 25 Investigates examined revenue on Tuesdays from Aug. 28, 2018 to Feb. 12, 2019, we found six dates in which revenue exceeded $500,000, more than on Parade Day when the Commuter Rail estimated a record number of riders.

    Aug. 28 - $526,647
    Sept. 4 - $513,393
    Oct. 2 - $572,173
    Oct. 30 - $539,742
    Dec. 4 - $514,752
    Jan. 29 - $539,384

     “That day, I’m sure they lost tens of thousands of dollars of collections because they simply were unable to collect fares from people,” Connaughton said. 

    The T says the trains were so packed conductors couldn't safely get through the cars.

    MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo told 25 Investigates in a statement: 

    "A transit system's primary mission on the day of a major public event is to move heavy volumes of people safely and efficiently. The extraordinary levels of ridership on Commuter Rail trains made it very difficult for conductors to walk through all of the coaches and validate the fares of each and every passenger."

    The T and the private company that operates the commuter rail, Keolis, says they are working to address "ticketless rides."

    Fare gates, with a “tap in, tap out” collection system, are planned for Back Bay, South Station and North Station in 2020.

    Keolis says ticket verification agents are on hand at North Station every weekday and most weekdays at Back Bay and South Station.

    But our cameras found that system is falling short.

    At South Station, we found riders are able to make their way to the platform before a ticket validator is in place, and for some trains, there are no agents.

    “For the people with a monthly pass, they should be the ones that should be really aggrieved because they paid for that ticket and all the other people around them did not,” said Connaughton.

    Keolis tells 25 Investigates revenue on the Commuter Rail is up 25% since 2015.

    They attribute that to $10 weekend fares attracting new riders and their efforts to 'reduce ticketless travel.'

    25 Investigates first looked into collection issues, after getting a tip from a viewer. 

    If you have a story you want us to investigate, submit your tips here.  

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