March 13--HAVERHILL -- Under pressure to find ways to bridge a $159 million budget gap without increasing train or bus fares or cutting services, the MBTA is cracking down on fare jumpers.
At the same the transportation agency was holding a March 5 public hearing in Haverhill on proposals to raise fares and eliminate night and weekend commuter trains, Rachel Greenwood of Haverhill was caught trying to sneak on a train at the agency's Back Bay station.
Plain-clothes security officers observed Greenwood, 25, trying to avoid paying by "piggy-backing" behind a paying customer, according to a report by MBTA's Transit Police Department.
Officials said the tactic is commonly used by scofflaws and involves someone who hasn't paid trying to quickly pass through a turnstile behind a paying customer. Greenwood, of 426 Chadwick Road, was arraigned the next day in Roxbury District Court and issued a $15 fine for fare evasion. Transit police arrested Greenwood after learning she was wanted by Haverhill District Court on default warrants for credit card fraud, check forgery and larceny over $250.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency has almost doubled the number of fare evasion tickets its police force has issued in the first two months of this year compared to last year -- 925 tickets through March 6 versus 493 for the same period last year.
Pesaturo also said the MBTA is working with the Legislature to increase the amount of the fine.
At last week's MBTA hearing in Haverhill, state Rep. Brian Dempsey and state Sen. Steven Baddour called the MBTA's proposals to balance their budget with fare hikes and service cuts "unacceptable." The lawmakers said they want to see new ideas for cuttings costs and curbing waste and fraud, including cracking down on fare jumpers.
"They need to go after waste and inefficiencies and fraud before they come to us looking for more money," said Baddour, D-Methuen.
Told of the Haverhill woman's recent arrest and the uptick in fare evasion tickets, Baddour said it's "good news," but that the agency still has more to do.
"They've been getting the same message all around the state, everywhere they go," Baddour said. "But I have been hearing that they are trying stop all the fare evasion and be more aggressive, as well as getting the conductors to make sure they are checking all the tickets of riders, because that's been a problem too."
Andrea Wheeler of Mills & Company, a public relations firm for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, said the agency has begun several initiatives to reduce the use of fake passes and prevent fare evasion.
One initiative, called Buy-Before-You-Board, requires customers to buy a pass or ticket before boarding a train. Though cash is typically accepted on board, fares purchased on board are subject to a $2 surcharge during evening peak hours, Wheeler said.
"Buying a ticket prior to boarding a train speeds up fare collection, allowing for maximum revenue accumulation, while saving money for the customer," Wheeler said, noting that the agency is training a new class of assistant conductors in fare collection enforcement.
The MBTA has held more than two dozen meetings across Massachusetts in recent weeks to get feedback on proposals to bridge its budget deficit. The Haverhill meeting was the first of six public hearings leading up to a final proposal from the MBTA board that's due by April 15.
MBTA officials said the budget gap is the result of soaring costs for energy and transit for disabled residents, as well as sharply climbing annual costs tied to the agency's $5.2 billion debt load.
To close its budget gap, MBTA has proposed two solutions: raising fares 35 percent and implementing an array of significant reductions in bus and train service, including cuts in night and weekend rail service to Haverhill and nearby cities and towns, or raising fares 43 percent and imposing more modest service cuts.
About 130 people attended last week's Haverhill hearing with dozens testifying against the proposed cuts and fare increases. Many people, including several mentally and physically handicapped people, said the commuter train is their only way to get to Boston for jobs and medical appointments. Most said they also can't afford to pay more for public transportation.
MBTA has stepped up efforts to catch people who try to sneak on trains and buses without paying
Number of *$15 fare evasion tickets issued by the agency
Jan. 1 to March 6, 2011: 493
Jan. 1 to March 6, 2012: 925
*MBTA is working with the Legislature to increase the fine.
Copyright 2012 - The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.