BOSTON (State House News Service) — With commuter rail ridership now rebounding from pandemic lows at nearly the same rate as core MBTA subway lines, T officials on Thursday unanimously voted to keep in place a flexible ticket option aimed at commuter rail users who are working hybrid schedules.
The 5-Day Flex Pass will remain available as a permanent feature, effective immediately, alongside a suite of other MBTA fare changes set to roll out July 1 in an effort to streamline ticket offerings, drive up ridership and increase equity for lower-income commuters. Altogether, MBTA officials estimate the package of six major changes will collectively cost $1.6 million to $2 million per year and boost ridership by between 62,000 and 172,000 trips per year, assuming the most optimistic model for the T's rebound from COVID impacts.
Officials first began selling the Flex Pass in July 2020, offering five days of unlimited round-trip commuter rail travel in a 30-day period for 10 percent less than the cost of 10 individual one-way tickets. The program proved popular, especially amid lingering shifts in how and when Bay Staters are working in-person more than two years after COVID-19 hit.
For most of the pandemic, the commuter rail network struggled with the second-harshest drop in ridership, surpassed only by the T's ferries. But since late last summer, travelers have been flocking to commuter rail trains at an increasing clip, and the system today is approaching 50 percent of pre-COVID ridership.
"In the middle of 2021, the commuter rail was significantly lower than the Red, Orange and Green Lines. That's done," MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Thursday. "The commuter rail is now marching pretty much in step with at least the Red, Orange and Green Lines."
The MBTA Board of Directors also approved reducing the price of a single-day unlimited LinkPass from $12.75 to $11 and allowing riders to make any combination of second transfers involving buses and subways, both of which will begin in July.
Three other changes for eligible reduced-fare riders, including seniors and low-income youth, will take effect at the same time: a new reduced-fare, seven-day unlimited T pass for $10; monthly pass options for reduced-fare riders on commuter rail, ferries and express buses; and expanded LinkPass eligibility for Zone 1A and Charlestown Ferry travel.
Written by Chris Lisinski/SHNS