Why flat rates make sense for public transportation

Photo (cc) by matthrono.

Photo (cc) by matthrono.

Transportation officials are considering a new high-tech MBTA fare system that could, among other things, be used to charge you more if you are traveling a longer distance. Such a system is already in effect on the commuter rail lines, but not on the subway or buses.

Superficially, such a system makes sense. On the other hand, the farther you travel via public transportation, the more you are benefiting the rest of us in terms of relieving road congestion and reducing air pollution.

Back when I lived in Danvers, I would occasionally take public transportation. Occasionally, that is, because it was too expensive to do it every day. Parking at the Beverly train station cost $5. A round-trip train ticket was $15. And the subway to and from Northeastern was another $5 or so. That’s $25 a day—an enormous expense, especially if you commute every day.

By contrast, I can now walk to the West Medford train station and pay $4.20 for a round-trip ticket. With subway fare, it comes to less than $10. Yet the social and environmental benefit of taking public transportation from West Medford is considerably less than it is compared to the North Shore.

In a perfect world, you’d pay a flat rate for all forms of public transportation. I realize we don’t live in a perfect world, but the benefits of a flat rate are something I hope T officials at least think about.

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