MBTA eyes reducing fines for fare evasion

With fare evasion decriminalized under a law Gov. Baker signed in January, MBTA staff on Monday proposed ending the practice of marking driver’s licenses for non-renewal if a resident failed to pay a fare evasion citation.

Transit justice advocates have been pushing the public transit agency to decouple paying fares from driver’s licenses, arguing that those who cannot afford evasion fines — which currently can total several hundred dollars — should not have driving privileges stripped.

MBTA Acting Assistant General Manager for Policy Lynsey Heffernan said on Monday that staff have “heard the concerns of our riders loud and clear” and would recommend that the Fiscal and Management Control Board approve new regulations without the licensing impacts, though she encouraged board members to “re-evaluate” the policy once its effects become clear.

Officials at the T also proposed lowering the fine levels to $50 for a first, second or third offense and $100 for fourth and subsequent offenses, down from the current structure of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $600 for a third and subsequent offense, but met opposition from the agency’s board.

Heffernan and Senior Manager of Fare Policy Analysis Andrew Stuntz said that they believe $50 is more manageable for riders but, when coupled with verification and enforcement, is still high enough to avoid incentivizing riders to jump a fare gate or sneak onto a bus without paying.

When the MBTA deploys all-door boarding on buses and street-level Green Line stops in 2023, Stuntz said, “it is going to become much easier to step on at the back door without tapping to pay.” “With all-door boarding, $50 is the lowest fine we think could provide an effective deterrent,” he said, warning that tens of millions of dollars of fare revenue could be at risk.

Several FMCB members, including vice chair Monica Tibbits-Nutt, said on Monday that they believe a $50 fine is still too high and urged T staff to return with another proposal ahead of a vote on fare regulations scheduled for May 24.