The state transportation board, recognizing its poor to nonexistent MBTA service during February's blizzards caused hardships for riders, voted unanimously Wednesday to say they're sorry with a day of free rides and discounts on May monthly passes.

The afternoon of the vote felt like a harbinger of spring. That seemed a fitting time to compensate the public for the ravages of winter.

After considering more costly or complex options -- such as refunds and rebates – the board settled on a gesture with a $5 million price tag.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the cost of a free fare day ($1.4 million) and a 15 percent discount on May passes ($3.6 million) is well worth it to rebuild ridership and faith in the system. April 24 is the day for the free T.

"I think what the board is doing,” said Pollack, “is striking a balance between the fact that we do need to put some money toward the system, but we owe our riders something. They've gone through terrible frustration and they've been incredibly patient."

On Twitter, many MBTA riders reacted with ambivalence. Some said that they've been getting free rides anyway. On my own train to the board meeting, the conductor was waving passengers in without having them pay because the Charlie card scanner wasn't working.

Still, according to Pollack, the MBTA hasn't seen a decline in revenue since February's service problems.

"I was worried that a lot of people who felt gipped in February would say, 'Forget it. I'm not buying a pass.' And we did not actually see that. And that's great, and we want to see them [riders] go up in April and May,” she added.

Pollack conceded that the lack of a downturn might be because commuters didn’t have many alternatives.

Nevertheless, Pollack aims to ensure that the MBTA will be commuters’ first option. “I don't want people riding it because we have them over a barrel. I want them riding it because it's a great service and it gets them where they need to go."

It might take time for reality to catch up with aspiration. Pollack said the agency doesn't yet know the full extent of winter damage. And then there is a an extensive punch list of preexisting needs to be addressed.

Interim MBTA general manager Frank DePaola said he'd already identified three problem areas.

The first is wide ranging: operational procedures. "We need,” DePaola said, “to go back and see if there are other procedures that we need to implement that would make us more proactive and be able to get ahead of these things, and not get us into a point where the outdoor sections of our track are literally encased in ice."

The second area of concern: track infrastructure. An example of this is the need to use technology to keep the subways’ third-rails from icing over.

Third problem on the list is something called a "traction motor." That's part of a train's propulsion system. Traction motors were one of the MBTA's most intractable problems this winter — they kept short-circuiting after clogging with snow, thus disabling and entire train.

DePaolo said:  "We went into the winter with 41 traction motors as spares. I think there are four per car. We went through all of those and then some… We had removed and rebuilt 120 traction motors through this winter."

That, he explained, might be because they are simply old.

As for the 284 Red and Orange line cars now being manufactured; DePaolo said he’d have to make sure they don't have the same problem.

The MBTA last month awarded the contract to build those cars to the Chinese-owned company CNR-MA.