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I-Team: Free MBTA Rides Could Be Costing Taxpayers Millions

BOSTON (CBS) - It's supposed to cost $2 to ride an MBTA bus, or a $1.50 if you have a Charlie Card, but the I-Team found out it can be a whole lot cheaper if you just don't pay.

An I-Team producer boarded bus after bus, on four different routes, each time tapping his Charlie Card on the fare reader and taking a seat. Sounds normal, but there's one problem: he had no money on his Charlie Card.

On 10 of 15 rides -- two-thirds of the time -- MBTA bus drivers let our producer ride for free, even though his Charlie Card registered on the fare reader as having insufficient funds.

"To me it's an insult to the taxpayers," said Greg Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute. "The people who ride on the buses are expected to pay. And if the people who drive the buses and the T administrators, if they don't care, it's an outrage."

We wanted to know how often this happens, so we asked regular MBTA bus riders if they ever see people not paying the fare. "I actually have, plenty of times," said one young man at the bus terminal in Dudley Square. "All the time, yes I do," said a woman. "I don't like it because I pay my fare every day."

We found it so easy to ride the MBTA buses for free we almost couldn't believe it, so we asked MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo the obvious question: Does the MBTA expect people to pay to ride the bus? "Absolutely," he said. "We expect everyone to pay." When we told him about our producer's free rides, Pesaturo said: "It's completely unacceptable. There is no excuse for a bus operator to just look the other way when he sees that a card has been tapped on the fare box and it has insufficient funds."

The MBTA responded quickly to our findings.

Every bus driver is being given a copy of an MBTA "Special Order on Bus Fare Collection" which they will have to read, sign, and give back to their superiors.

And the MBTA has started sending out undercover investigators.

"We will be performing random checks throughout the year to make sure fare collection is taking place as it's supposed to," Pesaturo said.

The MBTA runs huge operating deficits every year and as it is, bus fares don't even cover one quarter of what it actually costs to run the bus system. That adds up to an annual shortfall of about $270 million picked up by the taxpayers.

"I think anybody who's paying taxes in Massachusetts -- property taxes and state taxes -- to subsidize the T should be just shaking their head in aggravation and annoyance right now," Sullivan said.

It's not just people who live in the MBTA district whose tax dollars subsidize the transit authority. About $800 million from the sales tax, which everyone pays, is going to the MBTA this year alone.

The Pioneer Institute estimates the bus fare collection problem revealed by the I-Team could be costing taxpayers $10 million a year.


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