For Many Commuters, It's Cheaper to Drive Than to Take the T
Boston, MA– Over the past 30 years or so, the cost of driving has become relatively cheaper in comparison to commuting via public transportation on the MBTA. This July, prices across the MBTA are going up again, but bus fare pricing will not be changing. Commonwealth Magazine observed that for more and more drivers, it's increasingly cheaper to drive to work rather than take the T.
According to Commonwealth's analysis, the cost of driving has stayed relatively steady over the past ten years, while the MBTA has increased prices numerous times for the subway, buses, and commuter rail.
Since 2012, the MBTA increases their prices on an almost annual basis. Members of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board say that this trend should stop, or at the least be slowed down. While MBTA ridership is decreasing, it doesn't make sense to raise fares. Lower fares would improve ridership, which would contribute to the Board's stated goal to help reduce traffic congestion on the roads by getting more citizens to ride the T, the commuter rail, and MBTA buses.
Chris Dempsey, director of the group Transportation for Massachusetts, which advocates for transportation improvements, supports proposals to halt increased ticket prices for the MBTA. In an interview, Dempsey said, “In a world where we are raising MBTA fares and gas prices are near historical lows on an inflation-adjusted basis, it’s no wonder we have the worst congestion in the history of Massachusetts when those two things are happening at the same time.”
There have been several options proposed for alternatives to continuous fare hikes by the MBTA. In order to lower or eliminate MBTA fares (City Councilor Michelle Wu is in support of this option), the state could increase the cost of driving by raising the gas tax, charging for miles driven, upping ride-hailing fees, and increasing tolls.
In October 2014, data showed that the MBTA supported 38.5 million rides annually, but by October 2018, Massachusetts's public transportation system had only about 34 million. To reverse the numbers for upcoming years, riders will need some encouragement to return. If driving becomes more miserable and costly, the T will start to look like a better option only in comparison.
Correction: The article originally said that 38.5 million people were using the MBTA in 2014. The figure actually refers to the number of individual rides on the MBTA.
Image via Wikimedia Commons / Ben Schumin