Continued increases in T ridership mask declines on the Green Line, commuter rail

The Amateur Planner charts seven years' of T ridership data and ponders why Green Line and commuter-rail ridership remain depressed even as Red, Blue and Orange Line numbers are going up.



    Free tagging: 



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    Perhaps because it's getting far too expensive to live along the Green line and who wants to pay $200 or better for the commuter rail from the 'burbs when you can take the subway?

    My guess, but...

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    Admittedly, for the commuter rail, we are talking a few thousand people a day, but how are they getting to where they were going before, assuming of course they are still going there.

    From what I have gathered, Quincy Adams and Braintree, which would be the go to parking garage for Old Colony and Greenbush riders, have been at capacity since the early 1990s. If you are inclined to go to 128, or from Metro West overall, Riverside would be the choice place to get the T, but Green Line ridership is down. Northern ex-commuter rail riders might go to Wellington or Wonderland. Then, of course, there is the option of just sucking it up and paying the downtown parking rates, which still would be more expensive than the train (the Government Center Garage is hyping up their $350 a month deal, which is cheaper than all but the zone 10 pass.)

    And, of course, all the stations on the Needham Line are by bus stops, but since bus ridership is down, the riders are not going that low.

    The Green Line might suck, but people need to get to work somehow. Perhaps less people are coming through North Station, causing the downturn.

    There are layers of options.

    I study them and use them a lot. The buses are busier than you'd think. And you can use them to cut rail fare costs way down.

    When I go to Kingston or Greenbush, I board at Quincy or Braintree after taking a red from Central Square.

    For the north shore, I take a bus from Wonderland as far as Lynn or Salem. For Andover, it's a bus to Reading from Oak Grove and for Lowell it is a bus to the Medford/Winchester border and a short walk to Wedgemere.

    A 70 bus gets me to Waltham where I can grab a Fitchburg run to wherever.

    There is a funny Metrowest stop at Woodland on the Riverside line that gets you to the Natick Mall and I bail in Auburndale taking trains from the Worcester line and then do the short walk to Riverside.

    There is no need to take any Needham train as the route is duplicated by the 59 bus which is also very useful for odd Newton destinations.

    Forest Hills has a great bus run to Walpole and another to Walcott Square. The Sharon/Providence run has similar options at 128 Canton.

    There are a number of regional transit outfits that accept Charlie cards and have lower fares anyway. This includes Brockton, Lawrence, Lowell, Cape Ann, Metrowest, Nashoba Valley and a Worcester system.

    While I understand that many of these gimmicks may not be worth it for daily commutes, they are great ways to get around on the cheap for my trail video nonsense.

    good info

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    Thanks for the details here! Neat to see how you can use public transit in the suburbs. You're right, it's not set up for commuters, but there are options.

    People are Driving

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    I can take the commuter rail from Hyde Park...and then walk or take a bus the two miles to my office...takes an hour door to door.....or drive which takes 35 minutes to travel the 9 miles and I have free parking at work;) I thought about taking the train this morning but it's too hot out to walk the required distance and it doesn't run frequent enough to be convenient. American's will pay for convenience so I bet more people are driving and likely going in earlier in the morning and leaving later to do so....look at the pike...record breaking traffic....traffic on 93 most any time or on route 1 in the Danvers, Saugus area. the commuter rail model only makes sense if you live and work near a station....9-5....and don't forget about $4 parking at MBTA lots!

    Any chance rampant fare

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    Any chance rampant fare evasion on those lines is giving a false impression of declining ridership?

    No, there is no chance

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    First of all, real data (in other words: not blowhard blustering) indicates that fare evasion isn't as significant as you think, and doesn't change much from year to year.

    Second, automated fare collection isn't sufficient for ridership counting alone. It has to be supplemented by random surveys to account for inevitable errors in the AFC data.

    Third, the trend of ridership decline identified in the article has been going on for a number of years now. The numbers in the MBTA Blue Book corroborate with these monthly spreadsheets.

    I would say that the most likely culprit for the decline is worsening service. That, more than anything else, tends to drive people away.

    I would say that the most

    I would say that the most likely culprit for the decline is worsening service. That, more than anything else, tends to drive people away.

    The deuce you say. Are you implying that when people find that they can't rely on train or trolley service to get them to work on time, they might investigate other options? Inconceivable! Everybody knows Boston is a world-class city with a world-class public transit system.

    I would say that the most

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    I would say that the most likely culprit for the decline is worsening service. That, more than anything else, tends to drive people away.

    Nope it's me making buses more attractive than waiting for a packed broken down trolley

    Green Line

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    The reason people don't ride the Green Line is because it sucks. Until the MBTA gets serious about fixing the number of stops on the B line and makes the trains more reliable, it will continue to decline. The fact that you can walk to some stops faster on the B line than taking the T is enough to show you that it is a mess.

    Comm Ave from Packard's Corner to Kenmore has 9 stops (including Packard's and Kenmore), the BUS (Boston U Shuttle) and the 57. How can this be seen a sustainable public transit setup? That does not include the bad stops like Allston and Warren that are less than 1000 feet from each other. The B line can be fixed for literally no money, wait, the cost to put white tape over the discontinued stops, that's it.

    they tried to reduce the

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    they tried to reduce the amount of stops on the green line, and some people showed up to protest they would have to walk a little more, but few came out to meetings to show support. So, they didnt.

    but few came out to meetings

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    but few came out to meetings to show support

    They were just late for the meeting, because they took the Green Line.

    Griggs I Can See But Not The Others

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    Allston and Warren serve totally different populations except the few buildings between them. They need one stop on Allston because its the major north-south connector through upper Allston. And they need the Warren stop because its the closest to Brighton Center, Brighton High, and the hospitals. Also the train almost always has to sit at both the Allston and Warren intersections for cross traffic so not opening the doors at that point would just be silly.

    Platforms are too small

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    I lived at Griggs, and the platform gets dangerously crowded if a train is delayed even 10 minutes during rush hour. Same with Harvard and Allston. One expressed train turns the station into a mosh pit with people teetering onto the tracks.

    If they consolidated those stops, they'd have to make the platforms more than 3 feet wide to fit the increased ridership waiting for the train. There's no way to do that without redesigning the entirety of Comm Ave.

    How is commuter rail

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    How is commuter rail ridership measured, since there is no electronic fare collection?

    They still use humans

    ..on trains for inbound. They have cool hats that look like a kepi. They also have change machines on their belts and carry wads of cash. They give you paper slips that make great bookmarks.

    There are human options for outbound at these things called ticket windows but there are convenient machines as well with handy maps on each to help you figure out your fare zone.

    It's all like something from a prior century. There are apps too, I've seen em used.

    Thanks for the snark.

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    Thanks for the snark.

    Are you telling me that the conductor is keeping count of riders as we flash our passes to them?

    I suppose that commuter rail ridership can be tracked by summing the number of one-off tickets purchased and the number of passes purchased. That'll give you overall ridership, though not a line-by-line breakdown.

    You're welcome.

    Earned snark is always the best because it is so well deserved.

    Conductors have been keeping track of their charges on trains since long before your great grandparents were born.

    I'm surprised this is news. Here's another eye opener, sky is blue.

    T ridership

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    Perhaps the decrease in commuter rail ridership is because the schedule is so limited that people who want to work later or go to a concert or visit with friends in Boston opt for the car instead, if they miss the 8pm, of sitting around in dismal North Station for 2+ hours for the 10:20pm train. The T doesn't seem to understand that improved service will lead to increased ridership.


    Many of the commuter rail lines would be much better served with something more closely resembling a trolly then a medium distance train. If the state got serious and moved to replace many of the lines with smaller, self contained cars and increased the frequency of trips you'd see usage increase considerably within a few years.

    Almost all commuter rail trains are limited to 1-2 cars during off peak times but you still need a crew of 3-4 people to run the train. For the same resources (fuel, manpower) you could run a smaller train twice as frequently which would help everyone.


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    How is this different now than it was in 2007?

    I don't disagree with your gripe, it's just the question of why ridership is decreasing baffles the mind.

    Green line... Government Center

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    One obvious reason for decreased Green Line ridership (at least for some percentage of it!) would be the ongoing closure of the Government Center station which is the only transfer point for Blue to Green. Since riders have been diverted to other transfers such as State Street (with no Green connector) I know myself and many others are either getting off and walking to their destination downtown instead of walking and transferring to the Green, or taking the Orange line and subsequently the Red to get to places farther afield. (instead of transferring twice which is usually a huge waste of time...)

    That might be true...

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    ...except that the decline has been years in the making and Government Center has only been closed for not-quite-six months.

    I'm sure it hasn't helped at all this past six months, but that doesn't say much about 2013 or earlier.

    Could Also Affect Haymarket & North Station?

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    Those Blue Line riders who would have boarded a Green Line train at Haymarket or North Station, for transfer at Government Center, would now board Orange Line for transfer at State.

    (I have no idea how fares paid at those stations are designated as being for Green or Orange in the first place. Does anyone know if a fixed percentage is assumed for each?)


    This may be obvious....

    But I never realized how small a percentage of overall ridership the commuter rail is. Considering how massive the system seems to be, does anyone know how the cost per passenger compares vs the "heavy rail"?

    I remember the Globe did an

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    I remember the Globe did an article about this a few years ago but I couldn't find it. I remember the basics were that commuter rail and subway were both about 1/2 of the fare was subsidized, meaning commuter rail is much more subsidized per passenger than heavy rail (or any other mode). But for some reason the bulk of expansion keeps going to the most expensive to operate per person, commuter rail, even as ridership there declines and buses are standing room only but service is not increased.

    But its much more per person,

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    But its much more per person, while the MBTA likes to talk in terms like "recovery ratio", the reality is with limited funds the T is spending a lot more to get a person in Concord or Winchester to Boston than someone in on the subway. In fact, you could get 4-5 people downtown on a subway for the subsidy they provide for someone using the commuter rail. That doesn't make sense to keep expanding the much more expensive to subsidize commuter rail than the much more efficient heavy rail, especially when the commuter rail riders also need much more subsidized parking.

    Fine then, stop subsidizing

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    Fine then, stop subsidizing commuter rail and see how pleasant the drive into the city becomes on 93, 1, the Pike, etc.

    Those of us who take it in from the suburbs depend on it, and not all of us drive to the stations. In fact I'd say, at least on the older lines like most of the north side, the majority of people do not park at stations. The stations are usually right in town centers that are easily walkable. I walk or get a ride to the station every day. And ridership from these stations vastly outnumbers the number of available parking stations.

    True, the T is guilty of building most new stations as park-and-rides (see Greenbush, Worcester, Old Colony) rather than walkable, town center stations. But this is a problem with the T's planning, not with commuter rail.

    What people fail to realize in discussions like this is that the CR provides essential transportation for people, enabling them to still get to work without needing to further clog up the region's highways. It's about mobility, not cost.

    "Fine then, stop subsidizing

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    "Fine then, stop subsidizing commuter rail and see how pleasant the drive into the city becomes on 93, 1, the Pike, etc."

    Then move.

    It's also an air quality lawsuit outcome for some routes.

    The Conservation Law Foundation won a suit at the onset of planning for the big dig that mandated restoration of the Old Colony Line system.

    It was also quite specific about alleviating Route 3 congestion and auto exhaust problems. It had the added value of making formerly remote towns suddenly workable for commuters so builders out in places like Kingston and Middleboro made money.

    The world works in mysterious ways not always noticed by the'just move' commentariat elements. It's like the guy who yammers about oversized arterial roads while conveniently forgetting the defense and emergency planning elements that inform the specs.

    Or the various people who weigh in about sidewalk ramps as in "nuuh huh there are red mats, yellow mats blah blah blah." This bunch seems to miss the way infrastructure upgrades evolve.

    Example. At some point a mandate comes for sidewalk ramps. They are simple at first but as data comes in specs change. Yellow has advantages over red, Plastic is a better deal than metal.. etc.

    But as these specs are revised, it just means they are factored in whenever scheduled improvements happen. It isn't like .."Woah.. the fed just changed the mat color standard to yellow, quick, go out and change EVERY sidewalk."

    Everything is gradual. It's often funny to see how many soapbox mounters here imagine it must somehow be sweeping and instant.

    We all breathe, right? So if commuter rail plays a role in air quality, we all benefit.

    I could just as easily be glib with motorists on the "don't like it then move" shit but we really ought to do better than that.

    Sorry guys!

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    I moved from somewhere on the commuter rail to the green line a few years ago, and then from green to orange a year ago- didn't realize I had that much of an effect on the ridership results!

    One theory

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    If you used to work in the financial district, you could and would very likely take a green line or CR there. However, a lot of these jobs have moved to South Boston which, in many cases, means that if you have the means - you are driving.

    Also - a lot of these jobs have disappeared if you work at the likes of Fidelity, State Street and more.

    Good theory

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    Another component to this theory is that a lot of job growth has been driven by companies in the Kendall Square area, which you wouldn't take the Green Line or CR to get to. Probably lots more people driving all the way in, or driving to Alewife or the parking lots at the other end of the Red Line.

    Side note

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    The increase from August -> September is amazing and pretty funny. Until you're stuck on a cramped train with a bunch of drunk college kids, of course.

    Shuttles and bikes

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    I'm wondering if the expansion of things like the BU BUS has affected the Green Line ridership. When I was an undergrad, everyone took the T across campus. A few years later, they introduced the bus, and now, people only take the T if the bus is too crowded- and certainly, BU is not the only university/employer offering shuttles around Boston.

    And of course, biking. Boston has has a ton of added bike lanes, and a lot of the universities have added increased bike racks and bike safety patrols to help students bike to class.

    I always noticed that T ridership peaked on the B line when it rained, as people who walked or biked would opt to ride the T instead.

    HARUMPH! Well of course,darling

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    As we all know, the green line SUCKS ASS. It appears to be at this stage a public works project to lower unemployment.


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    For the green line, it was the change in policy.

    In the past, outbound trips opened all doors, at every stop. That meant it was free, but more importantly, time at station was minimal.

    Then they started charging...but they started opening all doors in all directions for people with passes to use. Yes, there was some fare evasion, but more importantly, time at station was minimal.

    Then the idiots at the MBTA decided to completely ruin the line by making it front door only.

    What used to be 20 seconds at a station became two minutes.

    Multiply by the train stopping every 50 feet, and who the fuck wants to ride that?

    So maybe they started collecting some more fares in the short term. But when people got tired of it and went out to buy a car (or bike), they lost a customer for life.

    It's pretty simple

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    The majority of increased ridership is from people moving into the city, or driving to the terminus stations of the red, orange and blue lines (which are relatively convenient to get to.)

    People who are moving into the city aren't moving into where the green line runs (because a green line commute might as well be coming from out of town.)

    People coming in from out of town is down due to the increased cost of parking and commuter rail tickets.