Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: New MBTA plan will help get us on the right track

The MBTA board recently approved a $723 million plan to revamp the system and add new electronic updates. JOHN KAVOURIS/ DFP FILE PHOTO

So long as the MBTA’s latest initiative goes according to plan, by 2020, the way people pay for public transportation in Boston will be entirely revolutionized.

In a meeting on Monday, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s board approved a $723 million plan for a new fare collection system. The new approach will be all-electronic — meaning no cash transactions on buses or trains, with riders instead paying fares simply by tapping their smartphones, credit cards or a new kind of CharlieCard as they get on board — a system that could potentially decrease ride times by as much as 10 percent.

And in order to compensate for the seven percent of MBTA riders who currently pay with cash, the company plans to install far more ticket machines at bus stops and train stations, in addition to working with more stores around town where people would be able to add value to their cards, to help people more easily pay on the go.

Though this plan might seem like nothing but good news, it has not come without criticism. Many Bostonians have expressed their concern over the amount of taxpayer dollars that will be poured into the project, worrying that the increased efficiency the new system hopes to bring will ultimately not pay off.

It all comes down to is one question — will the reward be worth the risk?

We certainly hope so — $723 million is far too much to spend on something that won’t produce results. But luckily, we have every reason to believe this new system might be a big help.

Headlines about the MBTA don’t tend to be very promising. They tell the tales of debt, delays and dereliction — everything that is wrong with the MBTA. This new push is finally a look toward the future. It is the beginning of a new era for the MBTA, one marked by innovation and technology.

One of the primary ways the company loses money is the thousands of riders who hop on buses and trains every day without paying. Last year, the MBTA estimated this fare evasion costs them up to $42 million a year. If this is true, it’s absolutely something worth putting money into on the front end of things in order to save long-term. It would almost be crazy not to do something drastic to combat that kind of loss.

On Monday, the MBTA also approved a $1.08 billion extension of the Green Line into Somerville and Medford. The plan was previously halted for costs that were escalating too quickly — but now they are ready to start the project once again, with a plan that has a much lower price tag. This is just another way to show that they’re dedicated to the people of Boston, especially as new companies and startups are flooding into the city and bringing with them more and more urban sprawl. The company is clearly trying to step up its game in both quality and quantity of service — both of which desperately needed improvement.

Until the bugs in this new plan are worked out, it probably won’t be nearly as efficient as the MBTA hopes it to be — but that is always a part of growth. With the way the MBTA is looking right now, it will be worth the wait. They’re taking a big leap of faith pouring so much money into this project, but that’s exactly the kind of thing they need to do to turn the system around. The MBTA shouldn’t be something in continual debt and disrepair — it should be something that Boston can be really proud of, and this new system will definitely help get us on the right track.

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