Special Report: Free Ride
And we assume all the conductors are doing their jobs:
Collecting *all* fares for the cash-strapped MBTA.
But 7NEWS went undercover and found not all conductors are on board.
On this trip from Malden to Boston, two 7NEWS staffers boarded the train and were never asked for tickets. They both rode for free - a ride that should have cost us $3 dollars and 40 cents.
How about this trip from South Station to Northeastern University - we rode in the morning and evening - back and forth for free.
The conductor never came into our train car. More than $13 dollars in fares were never collected.
In all, during our month-long investigation, we rode the commuter rail for free dozens of times.
For an agency that admits to facing a $160 million deficit - with talk of layoffs and cutting services - you'd think they'd want to collect every penny in fares.
Check out this busy platform at Yawkey Station - a crowd hopped on the train after a Red Sox game - and we did too.
We headed toward South Station, a trip that usually costs a $1.70 per person.
Again, the conductor never came by to check passes or collect any money.
"I didn't even see my guy once in my car. Didn't walk by once. He didn't check anything. You just get on go, get off, pretty much a free ride," one commuter said.
Now we can't say that every time a conductor doesn't collect a fare means the T loses money. Many commuters buy monthly passes. For most of our trips, we used a ticket good for 12 rides. The conductor should punch it each time we board the train, but that just didn't happen.
On this 12-ride ticket, we rode 23 times!
"It's irresponsible, I think that they should be doing everything possible to check the tickets," one rider said.
"I wouldn't want to pay to have someone else get a free ride, literally," another rider said.
Something else we found: On this North Shore line, when our 7NEWS staffer started to get her money out to buy a ticket, the conductor gave her a wink and nod, and didn't charge her.
And this didn't just happen once, the same scenario played out on another train...we weren't the only ones to notice.
"I know there are some folks around me who don't get their passes, and they're buddy-buddy with the engineer or whoever, and it's not fair at all. I don't like it at all," one observant commuter said.
All told, in our investigation we got 24 rides for free. If we paid for them, those rides would have cost us more than $40 dollars.
We tried to talk to MBTA officials about what we found, they denied our request. Instead, they told us to contact the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the sub-contractor who operates these trains for the T .
The MBCR tells 7NEWS it's"
"...committed to collecting every fare. While we were disappointed to learn of channel 7s experience and plan to investigate this story, we believe it is not an objective portrait of the fare collection program. " (full response below--)
One possible solution the T is considering, rolling out the Charlie Card on the commuter rail, which the T hopes will stop some commuters from getting a "free-ride."
Michelle Relerford, 7NEWS.
(Copyright (c) 2009 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
MBCR issued the following statement regarding Channel 7's story:
"Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad is committed to collecting every fare. While we were disappointed to learn of Channel 7's experience and plan to investigate this story, we believe it is not an objective portrait of the fare collection program. MBCR data shows that fare collection has improved. In 2008, commuter rail ridership was up 2% and on-board fare collection was up 5.5% over 2007. Complaints regarding fare collection have declined from 29 complaints in October of 2008 to just four complaints in March 2009.
MBCR has employed a number of proactive steps to ensure every fare is collected. Last summer, we implemented a "Buy Before You Board" campaign and have dispatched mystery shoppers on trains to evaluate our staff's efforts to collect fares. In January, MBCR launched a two-day customer service training program for all conductors that emphasizes keys to customer satisfaction, including fare collection. We continue to work hard to overcome the challenge of collecting every fare on a system without gates or turn-styles and look forward to working with the MBTA to implement the Charlie Card collection system on commuter rail . We encourage all of our customers to report uncollected fares to our customer service department at www.mbcr.net ."