Editorial: Fairmount pilot gains steam in Dot, Mattapan

CharlieCards may now be used at Fairmount Line stations, like Blue Hill Ave. MBTA photo

What’s new on the Fairmount Line? As of June 22, a lot. The commuter rail line that connects Readville to South Station is now in the early stages of a year-long pilot that offers increased train frequency, a new ticketing system and a marketing push from the T and Keolis, the company that manages the line.

The pilot was supposed to start in May, but was delayed a month by the effects of the pandemic, which caused a colossal drop in ridership across the system. That decline is slowly reversing, but with many people still leery about sharing space on subway cars or buses, the commuter rail train offers an alternative.

The eight additional trains per weekday — it is hoped— will make the Fairmount a more convenient option for commuters getting into and out of Boston from our neighborhood. They include 4 new inbound trains leaving Readville at 5:10 a.m., 9:25 a.m., 3:05 p.m., and 3:53 p.m. and four outbound leaving South Station at 7:35 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 6:50 p.m., and 12:00 a.m. 

Another new element: You can now use your CharlieCard to ride the Fairmount Line. The T has installed “validators” on all Zone 1A station platforms — which includes all of the ones in Dorchester and Mattapan. CharlieCards can now be used at these stations to print a “proof-of-payment” to show the conductor when onboard the train. You can also buy tickets using a mobile app.

According to the MBTA: “Fairmount Line riders who pay with a CharlieCard can also transfer for free within 2 hours of their first tap to local buses, the Silver Line, and the Red Line at South Station. Riders transferring from buses to the Fairmount Line at any Zone 1A station will pay only the difference in fare when they tap a platform validator with their CharlieCard.”

It’s estimated that the pilot program will cost the MBTA about $1.1 million to operate. But that’s a sensible sum, particularly given the much larger investment made by state officials in the Fairmount Line over the last decade. New stations at Talbot Avenue, Newmarket, Four Corners and — most recently—at Blue Hill Avenue near Mattapan Square have been part of a strategy to offer more and better transit options to people who live in Mattapan, Dorchester and Hyde Park. Last January, when the MBTA board voted to approve this pilot state Senator Nick Collins rightly called it “a big step forward on transit equity, access & economic opportunity.”

It’s important to note that during this year-long “pilot,” MBTA and Keolis will be carefully measuring its progress, particularly daily ridership data. The still-lingering restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic— and the related unemployment — make this a tough time to “test” the long-term viability of any transit line. Thankfully, according to a statement posted by the MBTA, the agency has left the door open to “extending the evaluation period if needed... as communities and businesses recover from the pandemic."

- Bill Forry