Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, February 23, 2024

The Budget Line: Thinking of buying the MBTA semester pass? Don’t bother

Though it may sound like a great deal, you probably won’t get your money’s worth.

graphic for Justin Hong's column "the budget line"
Graphic by Camilla Samuel

The last day of class is upon us and only finals remain between us and the sweet escape of winter break. We did it, Joe! Whether it was your first semester or if you’ve only got one more left, it’s an exciting but hectic time of year. It’s also time to plan out next semester. I know, it seems early, but, let’s face it, you’re probably not going to get to all those things you want to do over the break.

One thing you can plan for right now is something that comes around at the end of every semester. It’s a perennial question that’s befuddled Tufts students for years: Should you buy the MBTA pass?

For most, it’s a resounding “no.” Even for combined-degree students that must commute to and from the SMFA for class, it’s probably not worth it. The passes offered only work between February and May, leaving students on their own during the first two weeks of the semester.

The LinkPass, which grants users unlimited access to bus, ferry and subway rides, is the one most people would buy and costs $320. This is only an 11% discount from the non-student price but paying for the pass requires an additional 4% credit card processing fee, which brings the grand total to a pricier $332.80.

To break even with the LinkPass, you need to take the subway 139 times. That translates to about 11 times a week between Feb. 1 and the last day of finals. Even if you’re a combined-degree student or have a part-time job that requires you to use the MBTA, you’d likely need to take trips beyond just your commute to break even.

If your schedule requires you to be downtown every weekday, taking 10 subway rides per week, you’d be down over $20 by the end of the semester. Take it just six times a week? Buying the pass will cost you an extra $145.60.

In total, you would need to spend at least $25.60 on MBTA fares per week over the 13 weeks between Feb. 1 and the last day of finals to make the pass worth it.

Even if you stick around after finals, it’s hard to break even. By leaving on the last day of finals, May 10, you forfeit three weeks of your pass. Staying until the month’s end means you’d still have to take the subway nine times a week or spend $20.80 on MBTA fares per week.

No matter what, you’d need to take a lot of bus or train rides. The series of track closures planned over the coming year will only make it harder to take enough rides to break even. There are very few who would be well served by buying the discounted pass. The semester’s logistics combined with the T’s well-documented problems make it a bad idea all around.