No one can blame Keolis Commuter Services for wanting to make sure rail customers boarding trains in Lynn, Swampscott and other stations are doing so with tickets in hand. Keolis, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) commuter rail operator, has expanded its Fare is Fair initiative to stem the tide of money lost due to free-loading customers.
Buried in a press release Keolis sent out last week is the startling revelation that a recent survey found “… only two-thirds of passengers said their fare was collected ‘all the time.’” The wording of this statement is interesting because it implies the missed fares were the fault of Keolis conductors and not commuter rail riders.
That said, Keolis is instituting more random ticket checks with the objective of ensuring riders board trains with “an appropriate and activated ticket.” Nowhere in the release does Keolis outline any plans to boot riders off trains or deny them rail access if they are ticketless.
But the company and, by extension, the MBTA owes commuters from the North Shore and other points of the compass more than a thorough ticket check. It owes them on-time performance and train arrivals and departures that match schedules. It owes them prompt and accurate delay announcements by app or station platform signs. It owes them trains that function in all weather.
These priorities have been hammered home by Gov. Baker and state legislators but Keolis, in the spirit of serving its riders, should take a commitment to service further and promise to provide refunds to riders if trains are delayed or service is delayed or interrupted.
Taking a Fare is Fair attitude about a well-run rail system means giving customers what they pay for: Reliable service. The same ticket checkers who quickly scan rail passes and tickets as riders board trains can also hand out refund or “one free ride” passes to make up for the lost time and tardy work arrivals commuters endure.
Keolis takes justifiable pride in being the fifth largest commuter rail operation in North America, carrying approximately 127,000 daily passengers throughout Greater Boston over 394 miles of track.
That’s a big job and no one expects Keolis or the MBTA to provide 100 percent reliable service and on-time performance. But if company representatives believe “…one of the most common complaints by regular passengers…” is conductors unable to collect fares in crowded rail cars, then they must also believe customers rank on-time arrivals as a top priority.
Keolis stated in its press release that company and the MBTA are committed to modernizing commuter rail and growing ridership. The best way to achieve the latter goal is to treat riders with integrity by compensating them when service quality lapses.
Unlike the South Shore or northwestern Boston suburbs fully served by MBTA subway trains and commuter rail, the North Shore relies largely on commuter rail. Customers want Keolis to respect that reliance with reliability. After all, fair is fair.