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T Offers Free Fare Day, Discounts For Monthly Pass Holders

BOSTON (AP) — The board overseeing the Boston-area's beleaguered public transit system voted Wednesday to offer free fares for one day and discounts for monthly pass holders as a goodwill gesture to commuters who endured massive breakdowns during a brutal stretch of winter weather.

Under the two-part plan approved unanimously, cash customers on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would be able to ride free for one day — April 24 — on all modes of transportation including trolleys, buses and commuter rail trains.

The second part of the plan calls for a 15 percent discount on purchases of monthly MBTA passes during the month of May.

The cost to the agency of both plans was estimated at $5 million.

The MBTA, the nation's oldest public transit system, was beset by equipment failures during the spate of storms that dropped more than 100 inches of snow on parts of the region during a six-week period starting at the end of January, resulting in delayed and canceled trains on both rapid transit and commuter rail lines. The entire system was forced to shut down for more than 24 hours following one storm.

"The people who used the system experienced extraordinary frustration," said Stephanie Pollack, the state's secretary of transportation and a member of the seven-member MassDOT board.

The goal in compensating riders, Pollack said, wasn't simply about money.

"It's how do we thank our customer and rebuild faith?" she said.

MBTA officials outlined several options for board members last week, ranging from a full week of free fares — which was projected to cost $6 million in lost revenue — to offering selected refunds or allowing monthly passes that were purchased for February to be reused in another month.

The system was under no legal obligation to reimburse passengers.

Board members and state transportation officials had initially appeared divided on whether to offer refunds or future discounts. Some believed financial compensation would help restore the public's confidence in the MBTA, but others worried the cost would only divert scarce resources away from fixing deep-rooted problems with the system, or establish an unwanted precedent.

"This doesn't set a precedent," said board chairman John Jenkins of the plan approved Wednesday.

"We're thanking you and we want you back," Jenkins said of passengers.

Gov. Charlie Baker has asked a panel of experts to report back to him by the end of this month on long-term solutions for the problems plaguing the transit system. The MBTA has also asked officials from other transit system, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto, to review the T's storm response and compare to how their own systems have handled severe winter weather.

The independent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, in a report released Wednesday, said the MBTA's financial and managerial problems were so overwhelming that no relatively simple fix would help. The business-backed group urged lawmakers to hold off on providing more money to the agency until a comprehensive plan was in place to address a widening gap between operating expenses and revenues.

"We know the T is broken, but we don't know just how broken," said the foundation's president, Eileen McAnneny. "We also know that past reform efforts have not brought stability."

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Bernice Corpuz reports

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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