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MBTA approves new fare system now targeted to cost nearly $1 billion

The board that oversees the MBTA today approved a contract with a fare-system vendor to replace the T's current fare-collection systems with a single network that will let eventually let subway, bus, commuter-rail and ferry riders use a single card to get around the system.

The new $935.4-million contract with Cubic Corp..and John Laing is roughly $212 million more than a contract the T originally approved in 2018, but the T says the more expensive deal remains cost effective and will be used to collect some $8 billion in fares over its 10-year life.

Under the new system, the T says it will have more flexibility to create new fair systems than under what it says is the increasingly creaky current fare system. Also, bus and Green Line service will be sped up because riders will be able to use cards to board at rear doors.

The T says it is also taking steps to ensure easier access to CharlieCards, because the new system will eliminate the ability to pay for bus rides with cash, including "a more robust, thoughtful network of retail sales outlets" and "a significant increase in the total number of vending machines" to ensure people can get a CharlieCard easily.

The T promises riders will begin to see improvements over the next year, including the all-door boarding on buses and trolleys, the deployment of fare machines that double as CharlieCard dispensers and the ability to use CharlieCards on commuter rail and ferries.

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Comments

Our system is screwed up but paying will be easier! Yay.

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Voting closed 39

I believe that I should be paying something to ride the subways. (I'm leaving buses out of it.) Because if it were free, I'd lose the right to complain about it and ask for better service. and that has been my number one hobby for the past 5 years.

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Voting closed 4

If this means no more honor system on the green line, and card readers break less often, that's a significant chunk of revenue that is currently lost. Getting rid of cash payments on buses will speed things up considerably, as will being able to accept payment at the rear of green line cars.

Yes, there's other infrastructure that needs to be addressed, but flaws in payment systems are definitely PART of why the MBTA doesn't perform better.

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Voting closed 7

naive mindset about what efforts go in to a new fare system, because I can't get past that price tag.

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Voting closed 48

Seemed insane to me also until I started looking at the numbers:

State agency bond yields are somewhere around 2%

Lets guess wildly that the system will depreciate over 20 years.

That's $61 million per year just in capital costs, never mind maintaining or operating the fare system.

MBTA annual budget is about $2 billion, so 3% of budget, which seems high but doesn't on the face seem insane.

Per the MBTA Dashboard there are about 1.2 million rides per weekday on the MBTA. Figure 350 million rides per year. That's . 17 cents per ride, which seems high but also doesn't on the face, seem completely crazy.

The MBTA has about 60 stations with fare control points (not sure about this number, plus 1090 buses, plus about 200 green line cars, plus some number of commuter rail conductors, plus a few boats, etc. - figure maybe 10 turnstiles average per station -- maybe 2500 total fare collection points? Now the $2G total seems a little crazy at $800K per fare collection point,

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Voting closed 16

Billions wasted without a plan to enforce fares.

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Voting closed 28

Or even a system. I'd bet some enterprising entrepreneur could develop a fully functional app for a fraction of that cost that runs off a cell phone. Save the planet (no card), save time (no machines) save money.

Anybody ask around silicon valley? A billion dollars buys a lot of cool stuff out there. Or one small house.

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Voting closed 25

And the people who don't have cell phones use the T how then?

Last time around they tried to make the Charlie Cards require a credit/debit card to fill them, and they got threatened to be sued over preventing anonymous use of the T. Same argument holds here, except now you're also expecting people to provide their own expensive devices to be able to use the T.

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Voting closed 38

But the new system is cashless -- so how will they use it under the proposed Billion Buck Boondoggle the MBTA is proposing?

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Voting closed 10

Would pay for a smartphone for everyone on the T. Plus a year of service.

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Voting closed 4

You could probably by 75,000 people a car for that much. I would love that just to see Kiopios reaction.

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Voting closed 26

Don't even need a new one. This type of system is exactly what other transit systems have in the country - MAX in Portland OR, Metro in Minneapolis, Muni in San Francisco. Is the T building a custom system or just paying someone to implement an off the shelf system? Both would be idiotic for different reasons.

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Voting closed 28

None of these systems are "off the shelf". You can't just go to the Steam Store and download a copy of Subway, Bus, Train, Ferry, and Parking Payment System Simulator.

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Voting closed 10

Why are buses in Boston so fundamentally different from buses in other cities around the world that they can't use the same fareboxes?

The same holds for the subway. Yes, it's a little unusual to have street-running trolleys without prepaid stations go into a subway with prepaid stations and transfers to other lines, but it's not unique.

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Voting closed 5

Because each transit system has a different fare structure. Some use paid transfers, some free. Some require payment as you board, some work on proof-of-payment. Some are distance-based, some are flat rate. Some accept cash, some don't. Some validate prepurchased tickets, some need to print tickets.

If you tried to standardize equipment to account for every possible use case, it would end up overly complicated and expensive, and probably too large to fit next to the driver on a bus.

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Voting closed 4

NYC subway/buses have a contactless universal fare collection system that is compatible with any bank/credit card with an RFID chip and both Apple and Samsung pay. No buying a Metro Card - so as soon as you arrive in the city you walk right up to the turnstile and wave your debit card and voila.

The only incentive to buy a Metro Card is for discounted/unlimited rides or for seniors/students whose rides are more subsidized.

https://omny.info/

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Voting closed 15

Right, why do we need a card? Wasn’t the T looking into cardless tech too, similar to London? Seems a lot easier to just tap my phone then pull out a card

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Voting closed 13

Unless something has changed since the last contract the T signed, the new fare system will allow payment by smartphones or credit cards that support contactless payment.

Unfortunately it will not be interchangeable (e.g. you can only use one card/device per pass, so no using your phone if you forgot your wallet), so there's little benefit, and I imagine the vast majority of people will stick to charliecards.

But as others have stated, you can't ONLY allow payment by credit card or smartphone, because a not-insignificant portion of the US population still lacks those things.

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Voting closed 18

Unless things have change, from what I remember the new fare system would allow riders to pay fares by using a phone, sort of like using Apple or Android Pay.
The purpose of a card is for those who don't have access to smart phones.
Also, I could have sworn it being mentioned that a fee of $5 would be charged for each blank card to cover the costs.

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Voting closed 6

This is me sighing heavily with my head shaking and looking down. Why don't we first improve the trains and prevent breakdowns first?

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Voting closed 5

This is me sighing heavily with my head shaking and looking down. Why don't we first improve the trains and prevent breakdowns first?

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Voting closed 29

.¿Por qué no las dos?

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Voting closed 10

When the MBTA figures out how to do one effectively, then we can talk about trying to do both. (I won't hold my breath.)

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Voting closed 9

In some ways this will significantly improve service, by allowing things like all-door boarding. Imagine how much it will speed up buses to not have people waiting in line to coax the farebox into accepting their cash.

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Voting closed 14

I try to be sympathetic toward the bus drivers who have to deal with them every minute of every day.

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Voting closed 11

Remember when fareboxes had a funnel where you could dump a handful of coins?

The real way to speed up boarding is to stop making everyone tap in. But this new system won't do that.

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Voting closed 3

I can see the Red/Blue connector at Charles/MGH costing a billion.
I can see upgrading the Silver Line to Dudley or extending it to Mattapan costing a billion.

Off the shelf fare machines and cards that cities around the world use costing a billion?

Did they budget this with common core math or the infamous 80's "New Math"?

WTF!

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Voting closed 40

Actually "new math" dates back tot he 60s. I was taught it in grammar school in the Boston Public School system back then. Also, for some odd reason, when we were taught to read at that time, using the "phonics" system, we were taught the vowels in this order: OAEIU. It was in the book that way and everything. I never did find out why.

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Voting closed 6

Nothing like this is ever "off the shelf". Beyond the obvious hangups like programming it to support a completely different fare structure, you have to have both software and hardware that's compatible with all of the T's vehicles, fare machines (unless they plan to replace ALL of them, which I doubt), and backend systems. Plus there's a signficiant infrastructure cost to rolling it out to commuter rail, and the planned addition of numerous additional fare machines.

And one thing that (unsurprisingly) people don't realize, is that the T's current fare system is hugely inflexible due to prior contract disputes with the vendor. The details are a bit fuzzy now, but I know things like the fare structure are locked in, the T doesn't have the ability to change them. That's the real impetus for this upgrade - it gives the T much greater control over the fare structure, which enables them to pilot things like peak/off-peak fares, additional discounts, free commuter rail transfers, etc., none of which would be possible under the current system.

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Voting closed 12

He has a great track record with IT purchasing, and I'm sure the Commonwealth got the best deal possible.

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Voting closed 25

It would be fantastic if blue bikes were included in this and run by the government like in Taiwan.

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Voting closed 10

Why not get Uber involved? We could help them turn a small profit here in Boston at least. Perhaps a few small restaurants could use a little help too. Let’s save them. Anything else not T related you’d like to fund with T money?

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Voting closed 5

The T says it is also taking steps to ensure easier access to CharlieCards, because the new system will eliminate the ability to pay for bus rides with cash

I usually don't take the T because I work close to where I live but on the odd day where I have to take the bus somewhere (maybe because my car won't start or whatever), I have to first go way out of my way search for a place to buy a CharlieCard? There has to be a way for people to board a bus without having to find a CharlieCard first.

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Voting closed 5

Two things:

1) the new fare system will allow payment with a digital wallet on a smartphone or an RFID-enabled credit card. If you have either of those, you don't need to worry about finding a card first.

2) CharlieCards last for years. They're reloadable cards, not single use tickets. You'd only need to find one the first time, and then you'd already have it for all future trips. And the plan also includes greatly expanding the number of locations with machines to dispense CharlieCards - including busy bus stops.

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Voting closed 4

States can only spend in billions? What an absurd amount of money. I understand needing to support those without credit cards, anonymous usage, and tourists -- but they can go into the slow lanes like we did with EZ Pass.

The future should optimize for the tech now readily at hand which is only becoming more contactless… but the point of this should also be cost savings. That is how productivity through IT works!

This price tag breaks my brain. Is the fleet really that large that retrofitting is so expensive? It's times like this I wish for once we took a chance on Fishman for state auditor. Someone not tied to those in power (and for once, a third party candidate endorsed by the Globe)

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Voting closed 17

The largest and most difficult part is the roughly 1,200 buses in the system and the ability to load cards nearly anywhere there is a bus stop as cash payments will no longer be accepted. This will reduce dwell time at stops when people pay with cash.
The current fare system is failing as rapidly as the Orange Line with broken gates at many stations and frequently on buses, too. So yes, this needs to be done in parallel with red, orange car and track/signal replacement.
I'm appalled at the cost and believe this contract should have been scrapped, a d that either we should have bought an system already running that has proven to work. If cashless payment isn't possible with those systems for buses without a smartphone or bank card, then bus and green line trolley stops should be made free.

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Voting closed 6

But systems like this should work well for tourists. If you've got a cell phone with Apple/Google/Samsung Pay or a contactless credit card, you should be able to tap your phone to the reader in order to pay. You'd only need a CharlieCard for a pass unless those can also be stored in your phone's NFC wallet.

This past summer in Edinburgh, I was able to just jump on a city bus and pay with my phone, no need to change currency or buy a fare card. It was easy and fast!

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Voting closed 12

I guarantee you that little to nothing about that price tag has to do with supporting tourists or anonymous usage. About 90% of it is the typical graft you can expect in government contracting. (And I don't even mean illegal graft, just the fact that a $100 item will be marked up to $1000 when sold by a government contractor to the government.)

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Voting closed 4

including the all-door boarding on buses and trolleys, the deployment of fare machines that double as CharlieCard dispensers and the ability to use CharlieCards on commuter rail and ferries.

Where we have heard this before? Oh right, in 2005. And if implementing this "necessary" whiz-bang high tech system is going to cost at least a billion dollars, then perhaps we need to seriously re-evaluate whether the T would be better off if they just ditched fare collection entirely.

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Voting closed 43

Last year the MBTA made 671 million in fares. Last year a gas tax raise [as recently proposed but voted down by idiots] would have made just about that same amount. Kill fares, pay for them with gas tax. Save 1 billion dollars or use it to fix broken things instead.

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Voting closed 27

Completely eliminating fare collection and paying for the T with other sources of funds would serve a number of purposes:

  1. All of the money now spent on buying, maintaining, and operating the fare collection system, on handling and accounting for the fares received, etc. could be spent on things like buying, operating, and maintaining trains, buses, stations, etc.
  2. At the margin, when someone decides to ride the T rather than driving, the primary beneficiary isn't the person riding the T, it's the other people on the road who have less traffic to deal with; it's the people breathing the air with less pollution in it; it's the people benefiting from a less oil-driven foreign policy, etc. So as a matter of principle we should charge the costs of the T to the people benefiting from it, not necessarily the person riding it.
  3. Relatedly, lowering the apparent-to-the-rider cost of the T will move more people onto the T. Aside from the fairness-of-allocation argument above, this also accomplishes an overall societal good
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Voting closed 18

And if you want to do it right in 2020, it sounds like 1 billion dollars is just the price you gotta pay for it.

I still don't think any of those ideas will change MBTA ridership. Unless you really made it free, I think ridership stays the same, and you would have to add routes, tracks, stops, etc to really affect rider numbers.

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Voting closed 8

$1B to install this boondoggle, to collect $8B, then replace it again in 10 years. What's the yearly maintenance cost, the cost of the employees who administer the thing, and so on? Indeed how quickly are they spending nearly $8B to collect $8B?

And fares only cover a little more than half the cost of running the T.

Anecdotally I've heard similar when cities do a comprehensive assessment of parking meters. Account for all the costs (including ones outside of the city's budget items, such as the county/district court costs for the occasional challenge, the state pension system for the employees) and they don't actually make any money.

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Voting closed 5

I'm far from a believer in a "free T", but spending $1 billion to get $8 billion in fares sounds absurd. We need more accountability.

Also, what's wrong with the current CharlieCard system? What's preventing the T from installing card readers at back doors on Green Line cars, and increasing fare enforcement? Similarly, what's stopping Keolis from rolling out portable CharlieCard readers for conductors, or even platform card readers (like what they're rolling out on the Fairmount Line)?

They're saying that the new system will allow more "flexibility", but maybe they should outline this flexibility and take it through a public process (eg. ACLU for worries about tracking, NAACP and local politicians for worries about fare enforcement) before spending money that could have gone toward worthwhile projects like Red-Blue.

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Voting closed 4

Also, what's wrong with the current CharlieCard system?

It's 15 years old, and running on hardware and software that's no longer supported by the manufacturer due to a contract dispute with the T. About all they can do right now is adjust the fare price. The system wouldn't support things like moving to proof-of-payment on the green line and buses.

what's stopping Keolis from rolling out portable CharlieCard readers for conductors

Primarily, the union. The T actually bought portable card readers for conductors when they first rolled out Charlie, but the conductors' union balked at having another piece of equipment to carry. And now the fare system wouldn't support the distance-based fares on the commuter rail.

or even platform card readers

This is what they're going to be doing for the commuter rail with the new fare system. Major stations will get gates, minor stations will get platform validators that you use to validate your fare before boarding.

They're saying that the new system will allow more "flexibility", but maybe they should outline this flexibility and take it through a public process

The T is a public agency. All of their board meetings are open to the public. All of the documents are available online. They've been holding public meetings since 2018. It's not their fault if you don't do your research, and base your outrage entirely on one post you read online.

https://faretransformation.mbta.com/

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Voting closed 3

This project was going to force some people to change how they pay. But it was supposed to be cheap, fast, and improve convenience overall.

The cheap and fast parts are obviously out the window.

Convenience? Not if you find yourself without a loaded card at a bus stop that doesn't have a ticket machine and isn't near a retail store. I don't know of any other transit system that doesn't take cash on board and doesn't have a ticket machine at every stop.

And how about the rule that everyone will have to tap on *and* off the Commuter Rail at a platform card reader every trip? Even if they have a pass? That will be fun when a rush hour train on the Providence line dumps a couple hundred people at once.

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Voting closed 7

If modernizing the fare collection system costs so much, not to mention maintaining it and updating it again next decade, why not simplify by ending fares? Nothing that getting our gas tax in line with other smart states (and indexing it), and meager marginal tax increase rich folks won’t notice can’t handle.

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Voting closed 3

Make the T free to ride. It is CLEARLY not a profit-making venture, it is a public service. Get rid of the fares, get rid of the gates, re-purpose the jobs of the T people that have to stand there to help when all the machines aren't working properly, get rid of tickets, cards, the store in DTX, just nix the whole thing.

We might even save money in the long run because of the huge cost that goes into collecting your $2 (assuming you didn't piggy back, or gate hop, etc.). IT'S NOT WORTH IT.

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Voting closed 31

Fare collection is very expensive and labor intensive. Before we invest another Billion, we should just make it free.

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Voting closed 14

Make it free, raise taxes on everyone to pay the fee and slowly they move away. Then you raise taxes on the people that stay to pay the fee and more move away. then eventually only cinnamngrl is around to pay - but she doesn't need it because she has an entire decaying city all to herself. Think this doesn't happen? Go read up on our neighbor to the southwest and their budget woes. And I thought a liberal like you would want employment for people like fare collectors - you want to lay all those people off?

What the hell though -the feds are handing out free money so might as well get some for ourselves - right? I'm sure Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will have a very sympathetic ear. If he says no, maybe Mitch McConnell will be even more generous. Lotsaluck with those two!

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Voting closed 14

... because it's not a place people want to live, irrespective of the tax structure.

On the whole, people move to places that offer a vibrant economy and a high quality of life, irrespective of the tax rate.

Efficient, widely-available public transportation supports a vibrant economy and a high quality of life.

On the other hand, paying $2 billion in up-front capital costs and untold future operating costs, to provide me with no benefit other than to facilitate the moving of money from one of my pockets (as a T rider) to the other (as a taxpayer) seems like an utter waste.

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Voting closed 21

And where people live is subject to many factors because it's not the taxes - it's the value they deliver. But it's been well documented that CT is in a downward spiral of increasing taxes as people move away. Some portion of that is taxes (especially in places like Greenwich where you see huge mansions at least partly because the wealthy have fled the tax regime and are trying to sell their houses - gradually this is filtering down the wealth ladder). I know of many people that have set up residency in FL to avoid even Mass taxes which are not even as onerous as places like CT, NJ and especially NY.

And that doesn't mean they leave Mass behind - they just spend most of their time in FL to get the tax status. And it's not just income taxes. Mass has one of the most onerous state estate taxes in the country. If you look at some of the fastest growing states in the country - FL, TX and NV - they have two things in common - generally milder climates and no state income tax. This is real and anecdotally I'm seeing it accelerate as wealthy boomers leave the states where they raised their kids as they no longer need our crown jewel - the Mass education system. Even Cuomo made a comment recently shooting back at everyone who wanted to tax the wealthy in NY - his response (paraphrasing) - "Do you know how much of our taxes are paid by the wealthy? God help us if the wealthy ever decide to leave."

As for the rest - I agree.

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Voting closed 5

https://www.cpr.org/2020/01/20/how-many-cheaters-ride-rtds-trains-for-fr...

The denver light rail is paid by an honor system. You buy a ticker but there is no collector.

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Voting closed 11

I was in Denver for 4 days in January and got checked for proof of fare payment twice.

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Voting closed 11

yes but no collector

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Voting closed 6

Light rail in NJ is similar, I think - pass or purchase/validate a ticket at the platform, inspectors move around the system.

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Voting closed 9

If it meant you moved away.

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Voting closed 13

Just listening to your own echo out here?

You don't just want me on that wall, you need me on that wall (not Donny's wall).

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Voting closed 9

I don't get it - how is this different from the Charlie Card system, but with less payment options?

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Voting closed 8

It would save the cost of fare boxes on buses, and you would need far fewer vending machines. Raise the tax on Uber/Lyft to pay for it, since they have clearly taken business from the T. No fares and additional dedicated bus lanes would get more people on board. You also help people who ride the bus, many of whom, if not most, are lower income.

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Voting closed 6