MBTA Will Move to Proof-of-Payment System

A new plan will phase out cash fare payments on buses and trolleys, but many of the details are still up in the air.

March 6, 2019, 5:00 AM PST

By Camille Fink


MBTA Bus

MikeDott / Shutterstock

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority buses and above-ground trolleys will stop taking cash fares by 2021, reports Adam Vaccaro. Instead, riders will use fare cards or a smartphone app when boarding vehicles. "Because riders will be able to board at rear doors as well, and drivers will no longer have to watch over fare collection, the agency will instead deploy fare inspectors to conduct spot checks to ensure everyone has paid," says Vaccaro.

Estimates indicate that the new system will allow faster boarding and will lower bus trip times by 10 percent. Still, community activists are raising a host of concerns about how the agency will handle inspections and enforcement. They are worried about a potential police presence on buses, discriminatory targeting of riders, and unnecessarily high penalty fees.

MBTA is still developing the new fare policy, and officials say they plan to hold public forums and work with activists and other agencies that use similar fare systems. "Proof-of-payment systems are common in Europe and are also used on some US systems, including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Many systems use non-police fare inspectors, but others rely on police, including Cleveland and Portland, Ore., where activists have challenged the inspections as unconstitutional," notes Vaccaro.

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