MBTA Fare System (Charlie, AFC 2.0, Zone, Discounts)

BeyondRevenue

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What a confusing system. Just arrived at South Station and realized I couldn’t find my Charlie Card with 3 minutes before the Alewife train I needed would arrive. So, I bought a Charlie Ticket from one of the new kiosks. Approaching the fare gates, the left half were the traditional gates, and the right half were the new gates, adorned with loud signage saying “Charlie Card Only”. Thinking I couldn’t use the new ones, I tried three of the old gates with no success. Luckily, an attendant yelled at me that I need to use my Charlie Ticket on one of the new “Charlie Card Only” gates. I guess this is because it’s one of the new tappable Charlie Tickets? Somehow still made my train.

Edit: Just exited at Harvard and the signage here is much clearer that the new gates are for both Charlie Cards and Tickets

Edit 2: And then the Charlie Ticket failed to apply the transfer when switching to the bus 😑
If we want ease of use, I have a very easy solution but it would have to acknowledge our stupidity and our wasteful ways.

We should sell our machines to another transit authority and eliminate all fares.

Which means we get to eliminate...
  • the future purchases of fare machines
  • the fare machine repair shops, repair specialists and their future pensions,
  • the armored trucks driving revenue from fare collectors and all truck maintenance expenses,
  • the drivers and mechanics of those armored trucks and their future pensions,
  • the old counting rooms at various spots around the MBTA system reserved for counting fare revenue (for reuse)
  • the accounting positions counting the counters of the revenue from the fares, and their future pensions,
  • the attorneys who the MBTA keeps on staff to cover revenue and finance scandals and their future pensions,
  • the baffling systemwide fare signage,
  • the red shirts at the gates and the fare machines (who should have brooms and trash bags if the T wants to do something right),
  • the superfluous, specialized cops for the revenue domain (fare jumpers? please)... oh and their future pensions,
  • the specialized contractors who write the contracts for the fare machine makers, and their future pensions,
  • the second set of elevators to get to the platform instead of a taking a straight shot from the street. Samesies for escalators, ADA ramps, etc.
  • the fences, gates, turnstiles, and one way crash doors that prevent you from walking up to the train without paying a fare
  • the repair people who fix the fences, gates, turnstiles, and one way crash doors that prevent you from walking up to the train without paying a fare and their future pensions,
  • the constant loss of station dwell time while the driver waits to onboard fares
  • the extra design and build expenses in every new station designed to divide revenue world from free world, including
  • the need for fare gate mezzanines that keep riders from going direct to the platform.
  • the peril drivers face when irate customers don't have enough money
  • the transfer pass, the transfer paper machines, the contractor who sells them, the person who fixes them, and their future pensions
  • the lack of possible new hires like drivers, (since there will be a bunch of freshly available people)
  • the drama every time there's a fare hike,
  • the invariable duplicity of punishing MBTA users while rewarding single drivers,
  • the shame of not having done it already to encourage public transportation while the earth burns,
  • the person at your company who has your T pass at the front desk (some companies who have that perk YMMV)
  • the (biggie here) superfluous pensions and paychecks for each employee associated with all that fare and revenue garbage, followed by...
  • the head scratching as to how MBTA revenue only covers ~20 percent of the budget and the rest comes directly from the Commonwealth in one form or another,

....a bunch of other expensive stuff I haven't thought of yet. Please add to the list.

I'm sure if someone did the math, we'd make up that 20 percent quickly. Just sayin'.
 
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HelloBostonHi

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What a confusing system. Just arrived at South Station and realized I couldn’t find my Charlie Card with 3 minutes before the Alewife train I needed would arrive. So, I bought a Charlie Ticket from one of the new kiosks. Approaching the fare gates, the left half were the traditional gates, and the right half were the new gates, adorned with loud signage saying “Charlie Card Only”. Thinking I couldn’t use the new ones, I tried three of the old gates with no success. Luckily, an attendant yelled at me that I need to use my Charlie Ticket on one of the new “Charlie Card Only” gates. I guess this is because it’s one of the new tappable Charlie Tickets? Somehow still made my train.

Edit: Just exited at Harvard and the signage here is much clearer that the new gates are for both Charlie Cards and Tickets

Edit 2: And then the Charlie Ticket failed to apply the transfer when switching to the bus 😑
This transition phase is rough. The signage is inconsistent and the communication has been pretty poor. On the plus side by about February all the old machines should be gone and they can fully phase out magswipe tickets and move all the gates to the new system and that will greatly lessen confusion.
 

JeffDowntown

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This transition phase is rough. The signage is inconsistent and the communication has been pretty poor. On the plus side by about February all the old machines should be gone and they can fully phase out magswipe tickets and move all the gates to the new system and that will greatly lessen confusion.
Does February include conversion of all buses and trolley cars to the new system?
 

HelloBostonHi

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Noticed a new listing on the MBTA construction bidding website:

AFC 2.0 Transformation Phase 1, Adv Date: 02/02/2022, Bid Date: 03/10/2022, Estimate: $15,000,000

Looks like we'll finally see actual movement in 2022. Don't ask how we need another contract for what I thought was already a $1 billion design build contract, or how this is "Phase 1" of an already many phased project.

 

Jahvon09

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They started replacing some of their old Charlie machines, but there are STILL some train staions that don't have the newer ones yet. And some of them STILL don't work right!! Ridiculous!! o_O
 
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Stlin

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The MBTA Finance subcommittee meeting today was discussing the new Charlie Cards media that will roll out with AFC 2.0 - in short, they're officially ending passback, each passenger will need their own for fare verification, and the card itself (including the mobile version) will cost a $3 card fee which will cover 1 trip if the balance is zero/low. Contactless credit cards and mobile wallet will be fee free. PDF slide deck here, public meetings in March.
 
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Brattle Loop

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The MBTA Finance subcommittee meeting today was discussing the new Charlie Cards media that will roll out with AFC 2.0 - in short, they're officially ending passback, each passenger will need their own for fare verification, and the card itself (including the mobile version) will cost a $3 card fee which will cover 1 trip if the balance is zero/low. Contactless credit cards and mobile wallet will be fee free. PDF slide deck here, public meetings in March.
I don't suppose they bothered to explain how they justified a $3 fee for the app CharlieCard being the same as the physical card (they're both obscenely stupid ideas in my opinion). Also, is it just me or is the "one more ride" negative balance thing a completely bogus justification for a fee? Shouldn't it just be impossible to use the card again until it's refilled (including the negative balance back payment - I think Washington Metro does or used to do it that way), at which point they've been paid back?

Ending the passback ability is annoying, and it seems like they're basically admitting they're woefully incompetent at this, but then again I'm no expert. Is it really that hard to have the system make a record of what's being paid? (Like, they cite proof of payment, but why can't it just record how many 'taps' the card had, or check if it's got sufficient balance. Seems like a stupidly inconvenient change that could have been avoided.)
 

fattony

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Ending the passback ability is annoying, and it seems like they're basically admitting they're woefully incompetent at this, but then again I'm no expert. Is it really that hard to have the system make a record of what's being paid? (Like, they cite proof of payment, but why can't it just record how many 'taps' the card had, or check if it's got sufficient balance. Seems like a stupidly inconvenient change that could have been avoided.)
Passback and PoP aren’t inconceivable to have together, but it could become problematic. “Officer, I swear my friend Ted swiped me in. He got off the train 2 stops back…” Then what? You either need proof of payment or you need a plausible passback story? That’s just going to lead to weak enforcement of PoP. I don’t think passback is a very large portion of ridership, so the inconvenience of losing it seems very small.
 

Brattle Loop

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Passback and PoP aren’t inconceivable to have together, but it could become problematic. “Officer, I swear my friend Ted swiped me in. He got off the train 2 stops back…” Then what? You either need proof of payment or you need a plausible passback story? That’s just going to lead to weak enforcement of PoP. I don’t think passback is a very large portion of ridership, so the inconvenience of losing it seems very small.
Fair enough, though in my experience it's often groups (specifically families) travelling together using it, so it might well be unevenly-distributed inconvenience. Examples like yours strike me as a lousy reason to eliminate a useful (even if not necessarily widely used) feature, because I don't think there's many legitimate examples where people would be inclined to share a farecard but head for different destinations (and technologically it should be completely feasible for a system to be able to count 'taps', I know Amtrak's eTickets can scan one document for multiple passengers). Hardly the end of the world, but it strikes me as foolish to make the system worse (at least for some people) because of the vagaries of enforcement on one small(ish) part of it (namely the Green Line surface branches...and I suppose maybe the Commuter Rail, though they told us the original CharlieCards would be used on the CR as well when that was rolling out...)

And seeing as how we're talking about PoP...are they actually going to enforce it this time? They tried some version of it for about five minutes on the Green Line surface branches circa 2007 but quickly went back to the painfully-slow single-door boarding. Not to mention the other (quasi-)PoP arm of the system, the CR, frequently has (or, at least, had, pre-Covid) it's own difficulties with PoP (hence Keolis's very odd idea that those fare checkers at just the downtown terminals would solve the problem; I don't mind admitting I passed by them with the same ticket more than once on account of it never getting collected on stupidly overcrowded CR trains). I'll be fascinated to see how they try and make it work (though I'm not particularly optimistic).
 

HelloBostonHi

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I wish they would release their proposed PoP enforcement policy, I got to read a draft of it in 2019 as part of a project I was working on it and it was surprisingly comprehensive in terms of ensuring which routes get checked, when, and ensuring equity among who gets checked and how they are fined. The basic concept is since the system is entirely 'online', fare checkers will have hand held devices and everyone will have to tap on them when asked. The system checks when you last tapped on and if it wouldn't be possible to be on the vehicle you're on it forces them to issue a citation. These devices also keep track of which routes are being randomly inspected to make sure it's fare across the system, and keeps track of who the tickets are being issued to for the same reason.

For commuter rail this was supposed to be combined with tap in/tap out fare gates at South Station, Back Bay, and North Station, although it's been at least a year since I've heard an update on that.
 

jass

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Charging $3 for a card is idiotic and I hope it gets slapped down hard on equity issues.

It is basically saying if you have a credit card theres no fee, but if you pay cash its $3 extra
 

HelloBostonHi

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Charging $3 for a card is idiotic and I hope it gets slapped down hard on equity issues.

It is basically saying if you have a credit card theres no fee, but if you pay cash its $3 extra
That's not what they're saying at all. New CharlieCards come with "one more ride" protection, aka the three dollar fee is just loading the card. They can then go into the negatives. A small fee encourages people to use one card and is common across systems, including DC, Seattle, London, etc. They also are going to distribute free cards through community partners. A single card should last you years.
 

JumboBuc

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I currently keep my monthly pass in my wallet and just tap the whole wallet on the faregate. I never actually take the pass out and tap it directly.

Once fare gates start reading contactless credit cards, will I no longer be able to do this? Will the faregate be able to differentiate between my pass and my credit cards that all live in my wallet?
 

jarvismj

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I currently keep my monthly pass in my wallet and just tap the whole wallet on the fare gate. I never actually take the pass out and tap it directly.

Once fare gates start reading contactless credit cards, will I no longer be able to do this? Will the fare gate be able to differentiate between my pass and my credit cards that all live in my wallet?
When I was in London the Oyster card wouldn't read if there was anything else in proximity and the same goes for the old Charlie Cards. I tried keeping it in the other half of my HID work cardholder and it would never read, but once I put in another card case and kept it on the lanyard it would work. This was circa 2013-2014 and we didn't really have contactless credit cards then.
 

Brattle Loop

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That's not what they're saying at all. New CharlieCards come with "one more ride" protection, aka the three dollar fee is just loading the card. They can then go into the negatives. A small fee encourages people to use one card and is common across systems, including DC, Seattle, London, etc. They also are going to distribute free cards through community partners. A single card should last you years.
Except that their own (internal) messaging is mixed if not outright deceptive because they justify the $3 fee both on the "one more ride" grounds and on card-production-cost grounds, despite the fact that it also applies to the app version of the new card (which by definition doesn't have the same replacement/production cost as the physical cards).

I, personally, can't see how the "one more ride" function even logically justifies any kind of a card fee to begin with. With respect to the physical cards, they're coming from FVMs, not just freely available like the old ones, so it's not like people could game the system by taking a bunch of them for free and using the "one more ride" function to get free rides. (I wouldn't object to a new card requiring, say, two fares to be loaded to keep people from gaming a buy-one-get-one approach, but as far as I can tell the fee doesn't turn into fare value.) With the mobile app version, can it really be that hard to have a similar "must load value to activate account" function to keep people from gaming things without just ripping people off, especially since that one can't possibly have any card-replacement-cost justification.

As for Jass's comment about the disparate treatment of cash and credit, that depends entirely on the mechanics of the "one more ride" feature. If it's simply written off, and the card effectively resets to empty, then you are correct, and also my annoyance at the fee would be somewhat reduced but not eliminated. If (as would make logical sense, but since when have logic mattered to Cubic or the MBTA) it works more like a negative balance, and you can't use the card again until it's refilled, then you're still paying the fare, just time-delayed, as well as the fee, while the credit/mobile wallet people are doing basically the same thing without the time delay and without the fee (it's also worth noting that the T's own presentation calls that an inequity).
 

fattony

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Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems simple. The card cost $3 to buy but isn’t empty until it’s negative. With a $2.40 fare, that means the cost to throw away the card is as low as $0.60. To the average person who doesn’t think about this stuff at all, there is a $3 incentive to not throw away the card, because they’ll remember that as the replacement cost. To the super savvy game theorist who knows basic arithmetic, there is a $0.60 incentive to not throw away the card. That doesn’t seem so nefarious to me.

Applying this incentive to virtual “cards” does seem a bit silly, but maybe it keeps their database size under control.
 

Brattle Loop

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Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems simple. The card cost $3 to buy but isn’t empty until it’s negative. With a $2.40 fare, that means the cost to throw away the card is as low as $0.60. To the average person who doesn’t think about this stuff at all, there is a $3 incentive to not throw away the card, because they’ll remember that as the replacement cost. To the super savvy game theorist who knows basic arithmetic, there is a $0.60 incentive to not throw away the card. That doesn’t seem so nefarious to me.

Applying this incentive to virtual “cards” does seem a bit silly, but maybe it keeps their database size under control.
I'm a touch confused by the game theory stuff (math and probability were never my strong suits), so correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like what you're saying is that if a the "one more fare" thing is (as I assume) worth a whole fare, meaning that if the card had a zero balance you could essentially spend -$2.40, that'd mean you'd have spent all but 60 cents of the $3 fee (and would be throwing the 60 cents away if you threw away the card), is that right?

I'm still very confused about the relevance.

Discussions of relative incentive not to throw away the card is all well and good, but it's not clear to me why it matters. CharlieCards aren't library books, they don't exactly circulate. If someone gets a card, uses it, then throws it away, the cost of replacement to the T is zero until and unless that person needs a new card (at which point the fee would apply again, and the T would have paid $3 for those two cards, and netted 60 cents profit until and unless the second is also discarded with a negative balance). Is it really that common of a problem for people to just throw away their CharlieCards such that it'd cause the T to bleed money? (For my part, I've only stopped using cards when they expire thanks to that annoying Cubic function.) It strikes me as bizarre to base the entire pricing scheme on the idea of people just throwing these things away when they're going to need more. Add to that the fact that the fee is the same for the "temporary" CharlieCards (I'm guessing like Ventra's paper proximity tickets), which can't possibly have identical cost of production to the normal cards (and if the cost to the T is the same for both, Cubic is gouging) and it's the same for the app version (which has effectively zero cost to endlessly reproduce because it's digital) and the idea that this is about incentives and costs to replace looks pretty laughable.

The case for the fee being more about prepayment for the "one more fare" feature is stronger, in my opinion. I still think it's incredibly stupid, because it is effectively a punishment for regular riders. The T only faces the prospect of losing money from the "one more fare" feature in instances where the card is left with a negative balance and either a.) replaced with a new one (because there's a cost of replacement to the T) or b.) never used again. Gaming the system could be more simply dissuaded (if not outright eliminated) by requiring a higher amount be loaded to the card at purchase to deter people repeat-buying to get the free ride by raising the up-front costs. (I could be persuaded to change my view by a showing of significant widespread fraud/gaming, but still.) But honest riders get screwed, because they'd presumably reload their cards (thereby paying back the negative balance and making the T whole again) and by doing so would still have to eat the fee. (I might start calling it a "fee for doing the right thing" because it essentially assumes that everyone will abuse the feature.)

To me, it smacks of an annoying combination of distrust and incompetence that treats riders poorly. Add to that the fact that they're ending passback, so now everyone has to pay the fee. Anecdotal, I know, but I've been in family groups with five people (heavy rail only, so PoP doesn't come into it) using one card, which with the new system would cost $15 more just because, which hardly seems fair, but certainly must look pretty good to Cubic (and the T).
 

curcuas

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One more ride is a good idea and 3$ is lower than most other systems with permanent cards (eg DC and London).
 

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