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Local Commuters Consider Options If T Fare Hike Comes True

Regular riders of commuter rail say they are considering looking at other options, while others say they will pay the increase fares being contemplated by the MBTA.

Local commuter rail riders are reacting to rate hikes being contemplated by the MBTA – with some saying they could change their commuting habits and others saying they’ll pay the higher fares.

Under two rate hike proposals unveiled earlier this week, a monthly pass from (zone 5) to Boston on commuter rail would go up either 23 or 34 percent. In addition to the rate hike, both scenarios propose service cuts. All trains would be eliminated on weekend and after 10 p.m. on weeknights. No increase has been proposad to parking rates at commuter rail stations.

The T last raised rates in 2007. In addition to fares and other revenue sources, in fiscal 2010, Wenham paid a local assessment of $94,483 to the T while Hamilton paid $167,633.

The fares and service cuts have been proposed to balance the T's fiscal 2013 budget.

Doug D’Agata lives in Wenham and takes the train to work in the Back Bay every day. The latest rate hike proposal has him running the numbers, comparing the cost of taking the train versus renting a small office at, for example, the Cummings Center is Beverly.

The weekly pass for Hamilton-Wenham riders would go from $210 to either $259 or $282 under the two rate hike proposals.

“I could get a space for less than that near my office,” D’Agata said.

But parking in the Back Bay has one huge drawback – traffic.

“What (the MBTA) have in their favor is that it is so miserable to drive home no matter what time you leave,” D’Agata said.

In 2009, about 400 people daily rode the commuter rail from Hamilton-Wenham station. In the past eight years, daily boardings at the Hamilton-Wenham station have ranged from 266 to 496, according to the T.

For Hamilton commuter Michael Dinsmore,  he will likely continue to take commuter rail regardless of a rate hike “because I don't have many other options (unless I want to buy another car).”

"My employer pays for half of my monthly train pass so a fare increase will only be half the financial impact to me,” Dinsmore said. “Nonetheless, any fare increase with the current inefficiencies and delays seems unwarranted.”

Dinsmore said he is frustrated that the T has eliminated the on-time guarantee, that refunded the fare when delays were longer than 30 minutes.

And although he walks to the station, the “semi-recent” doubling of the parking rate to $4 had added costs to some train riders.

"The recent lackluster performance combined with a fare increase, parking increase and eliminating the On-Time Guarantee really illustrates the lack of concern for customer's views," Dinsmore said.

In a poll conducted on several Patch sites in North Shore communities with commuter rail, for what they would do after a fare hike. A plurality (25 percent) of respondents said they would keep riding the trains and pay the higher rates. But others said they would instead drive to work or drive to a subway stop

About 20 hearings have been scheduled in the coming weeks to hear feedback on the proposal. If approval by T leaders, the changes would go into place on July 1.

The closest public hearing to Hamilton and Wenham is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 25 from 6-8 p.m. at Annex, 120 Washington St.

Rich January 07, 2012 at 12:23 PM
seems a little drastic to cut off weekend service, I don't really see that happening, the T is used for garden concerts and sporting events, those venues are not going to like that. also stopping at 10pm, the games/concerts aren't over till 11... seems like a scare tactic to get what they want. You need to have a decent paying job to afford to take the T . the T probably knows this, so an increase isn't going bother them. unless its a local 1-2 stop ride, cheaper to drive.
Michelle Bailey January 07, 2012 at 01:03 PM
When I attended classes in Boston at night, I would take the train home afterwards. That train would arrive in Hamilton after 10pm. There are many reasons people use the train late at night.
Robert Gates (Editor) January 07, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I am an occasional train rider after 10 p.m. I find that it is largely empty (compared to commuter hours) except when there is a home pro sports game. People headed to TD Garden or Fenway would virtually be forced to drive and would not even have the choice of paying the higher rate versus driving. It may be possible to catch a train at the Garden after a game before 10, but not from Fenway. And if demand for parking spaces, say, increase by 20 percent around sports venues at game times, parking prices would likely rise too. Since most people now access train schedules electronically, maybe they could add another options to "weekday" and "weekend" and do a "home sports game" schedule. That way they would provide service at a time where revenue may equal the operational costs but avoid late night runs on otherwise low ridership nights. One other interesting component to the fare increase analysis (attached to this story): They are considering offering "discounts' to reverse commuters and off-peak (midday) rides. An interesting idea to entice people onto what are otherwise mostly empty trains.
Michael D January 10, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Shouldn't they make the price on the off-peak (midday) rides higher to encourage people to just take the earlier or later trains so that they can also eliminate the mostly empty trains? Seems like that'd be a better way to save money than making the people on the busier trains subsidize the riders on the empty (and more expensive to run) trains.
Robert Gates (Editor) January 10, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Reverse commute is different than off-peak, it would seem. With a reverse commute train, it needs to get back to where it came from to pick up more commuters. So if it will make the trip, with or without riders, it seems to make sense to lower the price a little bit in an attempt to entice a few more riders and a few more dollars. Mid-day, on the other hand, may be cheaper to keep the trains in the barn. Certainly the T has, or will, run the numbers on that. The only consideration is personnel cost - if contractual obligations require that workers be paid for eight hours, for example, does it make sense to cut trips if the workers (conductors, engineers, etc.) are still being paid? That being said, I do not know the specifics on the contracts or whether it could be renegotiated. There's certainly another perspective, altogether, that the system should operate all day and that the "cost" to not run it is greater on other segments of the transportation infrastructure.

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