(781) 786-2662
Council in the News

‘Free’ getting another test during Orange Line shutdown

CommonWealth Magazine | August 23, 2022
By CommonWealth Staff

Baker tax cap

© Provided by CommonWealth Magazine

Mayor Michelle Wu waiting on Monday morning to ride the commuter rail train from Roslindale to Back Bay Station. “At the (free) commuter rail platform in Roslindale & it’s packed!” she tweeted. (Michelle Wu Twitter photo)

The one-month Orange Line shutdown is a big test of thinking big when it comes to subway maintenance work, but it is also providing the opportunity to experiment with another innovative transportation strategy – free fares.

Hoping to cram five years of weekend and night work into a single month, the MBTA shut down the entire Orange Line on Friday and sought to minimize the inconvenience for riders by deploying a fleet of free shuttle buses. So far, the replacement system appears to be holding together.

Riders are also being enticed by the absence of fares to use alternative modes of transportation. For example, the MBTA is requiring passengers to only show a Charlie Card to ride the commuter rail system inside zones 2, 1 and 1A, which means a service that normally costs as much as $7 for a one-way trip is now basically free.

And Bluebikes, thanks to subsidies provided by HYM Investment Group, which is building the Government Center Garage project, is offering free passes for the entire month.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who is having the city pay the cost of a two-year experiment with fare-free buses on three major MBTA routes, indicated the commuter rail and bike initiatives are all part of the same philosophy.

“When you remove financial barriers, the appetite is there, the demand is there for bikes, for commuter rail, for all the other modes,” she said on WBUR’s Radio Boston show on Monday.

City officials said Bluebike ridership hit an all-time high over the weekend, with a total of more than 36,000 riders over the two days. Each day topped the previous high of 18,303 set on September 11, 2021. Nearly 12,000 people had acquired free monthly passes as of 9 a.m. Monday, according to city officials.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is also offering valet service at select stations, providing more bikes and more dropoff space than is normally available.

Ridership numbers for the commuter rail system were not immediately available. Wu said she and her sons rode the system over the weekend and conductors didn’t even bother to check for Charlie Cards.

Wu said the commuter rail trains would be ideal substitutes for the Orange Line if the frequency of trains were increased. Over the weekend, Wu said, trains running between Roslindale and Back Bay came every two hours. On weekdays, the service normally runs every hour on the hour – a frequency Wu called “unacceptable” — but has been increased to every half hour during the Orange Line shutdown.

“Because it is free during the shutdown, it is a very, very convenient option,” she said.



Healey regrets comment about how forests grow: In 2020, shortly after the murder of George Floyd, Attorney General Maura Healey delivered a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in which she lamented the lack of progress in dealing with racial inequality and addressed the protests churned up by the killing. She ended the speech by saying, “Yes, America is burning, but that’s how forests grow.”

– Now, as a candidate for governor, she says she regrets her comment. “I wish I could do it over again because I would not have used that phrase to make my point, which was certainly not about violence in the streets or anything related to what was happening in terms of protests around George Floyd’s murder,” she said. Read more.

Bump by the book: State Auditor Suzanne Bump dismisses claims that her office is under political pressure to delay calculating how much money should be returned to taxpayers under the tax cap passed by voters in 1986. She says the calculation will be done by the book in September, the same way it has been done in years past.

– Lawyers working with the original sponsors of the tax cap – Citizens for Limited Taxation and the Massachusetts High Technology Council – warned Bump in a letter that they are prepared to take legal action if she deviates from the law. But the lawyers say they would not object if Gov. Charlie Baker tweaks the rules governing how the money is returned if the changes result in the money being returned this year instead of next year. Read more.


Drought alert: Emily Norton and Daniel Sieger of the Charles River Watershed Association say Massachusetts needs to be as bold in addressing drought conditions as it is in addressing climate change. Read more.



The Globe says things went south between House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka when the two leaders differed over how to handle a big economic development bill at the end of the legislative session.


Teens vandalize a “field of hearts” at Smolak Farm in North Andover and post a video of their antics. (Eagle-Tribune)


Dr. Anthony Fauci will step down in December as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after 50 years in government service. (Washington Post)


Government officials have retrieved more than 300 documents with classified markings from former president Donald Trump since he left office. (New York Times)


Shannon Liss-Riordan, one of three Democrats vying for attorney general, made millions of dollars for low-wage workers through class-action lawsuits – and millions of dollars for herself. (Boston Globe)

Joe Petty and Robyn Kennedy, who are vying in next month’s Democratic primary for the Worcester-based state Senate seat being given up by Harriette Chandler, agree on lots of issues during a candidate forum, including their opposition to the recent increase in minimum MCAS scores. (Worcester Telegram)

Maura Healey endorses Rep. Paul Tucker for Essex County district attorney. Tucker, the former police chief in Salem, is running against James O’Shea for the job being vacated by Jonathan Blodgett. (Daily Item)

After years of battling for commuter rail service, it turns out New Bedford voters will have to sign off the idea via a special municipal ballot question being tacked on to the state election ballot in November. (Standard-Times)


An affordable housing case settled amicably in Michigan reverberates in Massachusetts. (WBUR)

A federal judge rejects a request by Ben & Jerry’s to block a plan by its corporate parent to sell the Vermont ice cream maker’s products in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. (Associated Press)


Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the first full weekday of the Orange Line shutdown went pretty smoothly – she rode the substitute bus service from Forest Hills to Copley – but the real test will come next month after the Boston Public Schools are back in session. (Boston Herald) Developers of transit-oriented housing in the area say there is a lot riding on the MBTA successfully pulling off all the repairs it has slated for the 30-day shutdown (Boston Globe)


The Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that defense lawyers who learn of incriminating evidence against their client should remain silent about it unless they have actual possession of the evidence and as long as they are doing nothing to try to hide it from prosecutors. (Boston Globe)