MBTA to Test Expanded Student Discounts

The MBTA will begin testing a new discounted fare pass program for teens and college students this summer, a victory for youth transit advocates who have long sought cheaper fares and have staged several protests to make their case.

“It’s like a weight off your shoulders,” said Kenisha Allen, 18, who has advocated for the program for three years with the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition. “It’s just knowing you have one less thing to worry about. You can get to place to place without having to worry about how you’re going to get the $2 to get on the bus.”

Initially, only 1,500 discounted passes will be offered to teens during the yearlong trial, after which state officials will decide whether to expand the program. Details of the youth passes — and discounted passes for college students and decreased fares for RIDE users with low incomes — were discussed at a state transportation board meeting Thursday.

Clinton Bench , the deputy director of planning for MassDOT, said the trial programs — called Youth Pass and UPass — are a response to advocates’ demands for more transit access for young people, and a way to explore new opportunities for ridership growth.

“We want to make sure everybody who is willing to give public transportation a try has a good opportunity to do that,” he said.

Some young people and college students already have access to discounts: Participating middle and high schools offer $26 monthly passes to students, less than half of the regular price.

About 24,900 students in the state currently take advantage of the option.

Under the new Youth Pass program, everyone between the ages of 12 and 18, and many 19- to 21-year-olds, would be eligible for the monthly passes and $7 weekly tickets. Officials say 19- to 21-year-olds must be enrolled in school or a job-training program, or meet income restrictions to be eligible.

The MBTA currently offers a discounted semester pass directly to students. About 10,500 students from more than 30 colleges and universities take advantage of those each semester.

Under the new UPass program, participating colleges or universities would have to purchase passes for all full-time students at the university. The passes would cost $37.50, or half the regular monthly fee.

MBTA officials expect both programs to cost $793,000 — $350,000 in lost revenue and the rest in administrative costs. But officials said they can offset the costs through the university pass program, which could net nearly $11 million in revenue if three universities take part.

But MassDOT board member Andrew Whittle said he was skeptical that universities would want to purchase the passes in bulk, especially those with few commuters.

“It’s a hard sell for universities,” he said.

But MBTA officials expect both programs to be popular.

“So many people have put in so much over a long period of time,” said Beverly A. Scott, the general manager of the T, in an interview. “We’re absolutely moving forward.”

After members of the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition were arrested during a protest at the Park Plaza transportation building in June, Scott and former transportation secretary Richard A. Davey agreed to talk about the possibility of new youth programs.

During the yearlong trial, the state will use a “robust research program” to determine whether the passes help more young people get to work and school. Officials also want to prevent overcrowded trains and lost revenue.

“We want to make sure that the impact on our existing services are not negatively impacting existing riders in reliability or crowding on our services,” Bench said.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.

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