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State looks at eliminating all weekend commuter-rail service

The Globe reports the state's looking to save some money; proposal would also make cuts to the Ride.

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I for one am shocked that such a proposal would arise under a Republican Governor. Shocked.

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A Dem like Deval who spent $1B on a non functioning website. Ya I'll take the Rep eliminating something which isn't financially justifiable.

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And by the way, the Web site works fine now.

It was, ironically, the fact that the state exchange system had to be extensively overhauled (not just the Web site) to interact with the federal system - the state system actually had significant differences from Obamacare (for example, the federal system required online application; under Romneycare, we had to apply on paper).

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You are using facts and reasoning to demonstrate actual reality to a bigoted idealogue.

He's gonna need a safe space now.

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Starting with hiring the same company that botched the federal system (which seemed at the time to make sense), but not all the costs were due to mistakes.

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So, how about all roads west of Worcester and in some of the small towns between?

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Are they making money? Why stop at the trains? With the buses off the roads, we can use more space for cars. Just eliminate it all.

I have a better idea. Maybe MBTA management can read train threads on Uhub. (Maybe some of them comment here...) I always wondered why the old Buddliners weren't refurbished, I used to ride them years ago and someone provided me a good answer.

I've read in the past that passenger trains don't make money. That was years ago. Maybe with some new signaling technology??

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No matter how much new technology you throw at it, passenger transportation won't ever make money. Never has, never will.

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But Charlie and his FCMB seem to think so.

*runs*

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It's not like people do any work, go shopping, or travel into/out of the city on weekends; we all just curl up in the fetal position and wait for Monday, like sensible folk. Thus, there's no possible way this insane plan could backfire on the state in the form of decreased tax revenues, job losses, or a horde of angry voters who finally realize that the big (R) next to his name stands for "(R)emoving all useful public services in order to afford tax breaks for wealthy friends."

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This means I don't have to visit my pesky suburb-dwelling relatives anymore! Or this means I have to stay with them from Friday evening to Monday morning. Shit...

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Uber, Lyft, hitch a ride with a friend who has a car, long bike ride, etc. Sucks but a Republucan is in charge, so this is our new reality.

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Bother your state rep and senator ...

Bending over and taking it is NOT the new reality. Kicking up enough of a fuss to imply that Charlie needs to smarten up, listen, or face a new job hunt in a couple of years is the new reality.

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Paratransit should be funded separately from the MBTA. The Ride has been bleeding the MBTA of money for too long and should be its own entity.

Weekend commuter rail is big during vacation season to the coastal communities. There has to be a better way to reduce operating costs on the weekends.

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The state is now expanding a pilot program where clients could use Uber and Lyft instead of The Ride. Those I know who have used The Ride (rightly) complained about poor service, and difficulties booking trips. The Ride typically cost $31 a trip, and using Uber and Lyft costs WAY less, is on time, can be scheduled last minute, and, for those in the work force, looks more professional. It is estimated to save the state a substantial amount of money, and really gives those with disabilities a greater sense of dignity when relying on needed transportation.
http://www.wbur.org/all-things-considered/2016/09/16/mbta-uber-lyft-disa...

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in driving lift vans and dealing with people who, if not wheelchair bound, require considerable assistance getting into or out of the vehicles. Wonder if MBTA management has fully considered the need for this specialized equipment and special training in their latest bid to gut another service in the name of cost savings.

Disclaimer: I've been a dialysis patient for almost five years. While I (fortunately) am ambulatory enough to drive myself to and from treatments, many of the other patients I know are dependent on The Ride - and none of them are driven to and from the clinic in regular sedans.

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So, the MBTA subsidizes a certain amount (client past $2; mbta next $13; client pays beyond that). There are wheelchair accessible vans for both Uber and Lyft, though I read somewhere they want to increase the number after the pilot. Thought I also read something about the companies providing training sessions for those working with the pilot clients who have disabilities.

The feedback from people I know with visual impairments has been very positive.
More info here: http://www.mbta.com/riding_the_t/accessible_services/default.asp?id=6442...

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Do you really believe that what you pay Uber for a ride is sustainable?

It's been widely reported that fares cover about 40% of the cost of the ride, technology, business expenses, etc. The ride-hail apps are in a race to the bottom for market share and are far from profitable.

What happens when Uber and Lyft prices suddenly double?

Also, Slate reported tonight that only 15% of Americans have EVER used a ride-hail app. I'm guessing the underprivileged, elderly, ill, and disabled probably stand with the majority of Americans on that one. (see http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2017/03/13/lack_of_uber_produces_eli...)

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Until you are blind or have some other disability that requires a service animal and they refuse to pick you up. This has happened to a friend of mine on several occasions.

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Weekend commuter rail is big during vacation season to the coastal communities. There has to be a better way to reduce operating costs on the weekends.

That was the first thing that came to my mind (OK maybe not the first but one of the first)

Look at Haunted Happenings in October in Salem. It heavily depends on the CR trains on the weekends for tourists during October. Salem is already a parking lot traffic-wise in October.

I'm sure some of the Cape Ann towns and some of the beaches over the summer would feel the same way.

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Sure, us Cape Ann residents might feel one way but in my experience our state Senator, the powerful Republican Sen. Bruce Tarr gives nary a fig about that. A few weeks ago I personally looked him in the eye and asked him to improve commuter rail service - he didn't care. He was surprised when I told him that it breaks down frequently, in fact once a week at least. Sen. Tarr could not wait to get away from me, a voting constituent. The pressure federal representatives are experiencing has yet to filter down to the state level, apparently. For the record, we have a Democratic Representative and she doesn't seem to care much about public transit for her constituents either. (Sen. Tarr is the minority leader which is why I focused more on him for this comment.)

The Salem commuter rail stop is on the Newburyport/Rockport line, so perhaps the economic considerations there will convince our government representatives to actually do their jobs? Then again, the T is shutting down service between Beverly and Salem for a whole 6 weeks this summer (to fix the bridge that was slated for repair in 2008) so I'm not hopeful.

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I'm sure the merchants love the CR. I have an inkling many of the residents wouldn't lose any sleep if tourists weren't in their towns and on their beaches every summer weekend.

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...if we stop running those pesky purple trains on weekdays, too, think of all the real estate that could be sold off for development. So what if 42% of commuters use it on weekdays?

http://amateurplanner.blogspot.com/2017/03/how-many-people-use-commuter-...

Will be real interesting to see how this one develops. This is at least the second time, maybe third, that this has been floated in the last 10-12 years.

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They are gonna shut down the Mass Pike on weekends too, right? After all it loses money and fewer people use it then.

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$260 million on to implement all-electronic tolling and to demolish the toll plazas? And all this to save approximately $5 million a year in labor costs, which means they will have the AET and demo costs paid off in about 52 years.

Cost figures are based on information contained in MassDOT press releases

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Don't forget that commutes have gotten shorter with the elimination of the toll booths.

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before the gantries went active. Doing the math, your $5 million per year in labor cost savings is WAY OFF.

Seasonal toll collectors make $22,880.
The highest paid toll collector made $123,662 in 2012.
These numbers do not include benefits.

Let's say each collector makes $40K. That's $16 million per year not including benefits saved. This estimate is probably really low too. I'm finding numbers of $45 million (at a minimum) in labor cost savings per year, but it's from the Pioneer Institute so I'm not going to rely on it. Still, it's safe to say that your $5 million in savings is WAY OFF.

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You need to subtract from the savings the amount they spend to process the e-tolls, including contractor profits.

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Problem with your logic is they didn't fire all the toll collectors. They offered some early retirements, but anybody who didn't want to or couldn't take that they transferred to elsewhere within the DOT, so you aren't actually saving those labor costs.

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Is that you don't understand how state agencies work. They were transferred to OPEN POSITIONS within the DOT.

Labor costs are saved if those jobs are filled by transfers and not by new hires.

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Having been employed by one (the DOT!), I think I do understand how they work.

And even if they're transferred to open positions as opposed to having new positions created for them, the state is still paying their salary.

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/s

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I'll bring up that time the MBTA said it wouldn't know what to do with more money. Good times for all.

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to be fair, the MBTA said that in regards to additional capital funds. they're not allowed to just take money they get towards capital improvements and use it to pay drivers and buy train gas, those are operational expenses.

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oh ffs

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throwing away $10 million to install faregates at the platform doors at North and South Stations and Back Bay.

Oh, but that's a capital investment, so it MUST be good - not!

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The real kicker:

Officials say that Keolis has been challenged to rethink weekend service in a way that would save the MBTA more money.

I guess cutting it outright is one way to save money on it!

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no no no no no

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If the system is running a deficit, just shut down the entire MBTA, right? That way they'll balance the budget in no time. And think of all those people spending hundreds or thousands a year on rail passes, they'll have that money back in their pocket.

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this is so so so so so so so so so so so stupid.

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I work in a job on the South Shore on the weekends and take the train. I would be screwed.

I have some friends who don't drive due to medical reasons but they still need to get around. They too would be screwed.

This move would only raise housing prices in Boston as living in cheaper commuter suburbs becomes harder.

In short, it's a horrible idea that screws people over.

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There are PLENTY of people that work in Boston on the weekends, and a lot of them take the commuter rail.

I know a lot of people work M-F jobs, but think for one second about all the businesses that are open on Saturday and Sunday, and how many people it takes to staff them. A lot of them do take the commuter rail. Removing it just makes it harder for the city to function on the weekend. It will hurt businesses and workers in the area. A simple look at whether it's profitable by itself doesn't show the whole economic picture.

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Good news is that you can't have any delays in service, if you have no service at all.

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About 100% on-time service

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MA Pays a Keolis a fixed amount to run a set number of trains. That's a long term contract signed years ago. So by cutting the service Keolis stands to save a ton of money and the state is out whatever fares they might be received?

Even if the contract is modified, Keolis stands to be the biggest winner with this change. The 12,000 weekend riders would be the biggest losers.

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Oh, wait, that's profitable.

Of course, if you apply the accounting methods that make the Cape Flyer profitable, weekend service breaks even, too.

(Most—2/3 to 3/4—of the costs of running Commuter Rail are fixed, and based on the need for peak rush hour service. That's why we have as many tracks as we do at South and North stations, why we maintain two tracks on most lines, why we have the number of train sets that we maintain. Running on weekends uses trains which otherwise just sit doing nothing. There's a small cost to the wheels turning round and round, but otherwise the costs are basically for staff and fuel. Those are pretty minimal. Basically, the Cape Flyer carries the same number of passengers per mile, passengers per hour, runs at the same speed, etc as every other weekend Commuter Rail line the T runs. So if they want to make it seem like it makes money, they can do so pretty easily.)

Someone is going to have to go to an FMCB meeting and teach the FMCB how marginal costs work.

And remember, the T even admits as much! The numbers they float here are alternative facts of Trumpian proportions.

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For years, people have questioned why the T runs 7-car commuter trains on the weekends, with only one car open to riders. It's been questioned here, at MBTA hearings, everywhere. No one could figure out why locomotives were pushing around thousands of tons of empty steel coaches every weekend, wasting fuel and increasing wear while not generating any revenue.

Turns out, they were doing the most MBTA thing ever: being inefficient on purpose. Now it's time to declare weekend commuter rail a failure and walk away.

Same as the Night Owl bus (killed 2003).
And the Night Owl subway (killed 2016).
And (fill in the blank).

It's pretty embarrassing for Massachusetts. Anything related to transportation is still stuck in an early 70s mindset. Weekend commuter rail could be run very efficiently with DMUs, but Chahlie already killed those off.

As a final thought, and to counter some of the other posts here: people are not going to move into the city because the public transportation sucks. They're going to move to another city.

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That DMUs could provide more efficient weekend (and evening, and midday) service, but then you have a bunch of extra DMUs on your hands that don't do you much good at rush hour. Per current staffing, they still require a conductor and an engineer. And they provide no scalability for larger events (think beach day train to Rockport, Red Sox/Celtics/Bruins game, etc).

Most of the T's train sets sit idle all weekend: there is no capital expense associated with running weekend service. No extra trains. No extra stations. Just some fuel and personnel. And it doesn't take a ton of extra energy to run these longer trains: even the Rotems have decent-enough bearings; the extra effort to push around five or six cars instead of two* (the longest train sets are generally laid up for the weekend, or at least should be) is pretty minimal. The real question, as I've posed above, is if anyone at the T understands either marginal vs fixed costs. I think the answer is a resounding "no."

(* note: the minimum consist length is 4 cars, since any fewer than that requires slower speeds since there's less braking action, so two isn't feasible without DMUs anyway)

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...is solely an MBTA issue. Plenty of other commuter rail operators run trains with two or three cars. Of course, these are mostly newer systems with less ridership, so they don't need longer trains for rush hour, or they (shocker) run more frequently with shorter trains.

Amtrak/MBCR/Keolis operating crews have long complained about poor braking response on shorter trains, hence the four-car minimum (or you're restricted to 30 mph, last I recall). I'm not an expert, but probably some sort of combination of better equipment design, maintenance, and fewer FrankenTrains (i.e., a 6 car train with 5 different coach models) all might help eliminate that need.

As for DMUs, there should be a use for them. There's lots of inner service areas which could use more frequent services, and also if the outer ends of lines ever get better service, you're going to need to run short-haul locals to provide faster service for all and even out the passenger loads. A short DMU set that might go all the way out on the weekends or late at night might just do short turns at rush hour.

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...is solely an MBTA issue.

This is not true at all. Many railroads have a minimum axle count, and it's usually 4-5 cars. It's very rare to see any operator running shorter than that, and the ones that do tend to be new-builds that are designed for that (e.g. most of the southern commuter rail operators).

The primary issue isn't braking (though this is a concern), but rather track circuits. To ensure that they're shunted properly, you need so many axles. This primarily affects grade crossing protection. Short trains don't always trigger crossing protection reliably unless the infrastructure has been specifically designed for them - e.g. more sensitive track circuits.

Amtrak has run up against this issue on Illinois service trains - they'd like to run them with only 2-3 cars, to free up scarce equipment for elsewhere, since that's all those trains usually fill, but CN refuses to allow shorter consists due to issues activating crossing protection.

I agree on DMUs being nice to have, as they would be useful all the time here, but the cost savings on operations is actually minimal at best because you still need the same number of crew members, and you still use a similar amount of fuel, so all you really save is the minor cost of wear-and-tear, but you've added the increased maintenance costs that come with a more complicated piece of equipment, and the increased inspections required of cars that are legally considered locomotives.

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And the LIRR is a very special circumstance, given that the vast majority of their trackage is solely theirs to operate on, and is geographically isolated from the rest of the national rail system.

The Greenport Branch is also completely unsignaled territory, with only a handful of round trips per day. Only 2 go as far as Greenport. (Schedule)

So shunting track circuits is not really an issue, except in the limited time that they share space with mainline trains. And all the crossing protection on the branch can be set up specifically for those super-short trains.

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That's the typical American railroad mentality: When you have an unreliable life-critical safety system, don't fix it -- just throw some more weight at the problem.

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DMUs can be coupled together, to run a longer train at rush hour.

Or kept as smaller trains to run more frequently. Even rush hour frequencies are way longer than they should be.

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DMUs coupled together are ridiculously inefficient though. I can't find it right now, but there was a study done by a commuter rail agency that tried DMUs (maybe Tri-Rail?) that determined that once you've coupled together more than 2-3 DMUs, the fuel efficiency seriously suffers compared to a locomotive hauling coaches.

Plus the operational issues that come with that - assuming that you can't pass through from one to the next.

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Please, SOMEBODY, take the reigns on proposing an INCREASE in public transportation funding.

A special tax earmarked specifically for capital public transportation projects?

Yes, please.

Elmininating weekend commuter rail service is completely unacceptable.

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The suburbs and rural areas love him. He's a Republican and he keeps gas taxes down and tolls cheap and highways plowed! Who cares if he screws over the city folk?

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Deval was also a car-centric republican, right? That's why he was popular out in the sticks. Yee HAWWW!

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I'm always amused by the kneejerk "But Deval...!" reactions posted every time we call out Baker.

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Never forget!

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TOURISM will suffer.

How many people come into the city on the train?

Also, Gov. Charlie Kochman clearly doesn't ever ride the commuter rail to the nice beaches on a weekend in the summer - you know, when the trains are packed?

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Federal regulations allow two-person train crews (or maybe even one person). The T should do whatever it takes to make sure they aren't staffing more people than the minimum on weekends, before cutting service.

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when they announce that they've seen the light and will only cut weekend trains by half. Compare that to the reaction if they'd announced a 50% cut originally.

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Weekend commuter train service was doomed to failure from the outset. Unfortunately a train timetable that has 2.5/3 hour time gaps between trains just does not cut it. I'm a big proponent for public transit, but cutting service dooms it to failure. If people assume that it's not going to be there when they need it, they adjust their behavior and it is never even considered a viable option in the first place. Ah, for the utopia of Europe where even on a Sunday trains to my family's home town (some 30 miles outside a "world class city") run every hour throughout the day.

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When I first saw this, I was going to accuse Adam of not reading the article, since in my paper Globe today (yes, print, so I don't feel like looking it up on the interwebs to link to it) there was an article on temporary weekend closures to install PTC to satisfy the Federal Railroad Administration. But no, probably a day after announcing temporary closures on the week-end, they announce permanent closures on the week-end.

No clue.

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I saw the same article. Was the MBTA feeding false information to the Globe? Or is this a balloon to see how much controversy is created? Perhaps it's a game where Shortsleeve, et al. say they need to cancel and then say, oh, but we know some people want the train so we'll be nice guys and just half the service.

I do not trust the people who manage the T. Tonight there were 3 # 39 buses bunched up at Perkins and South Huntington after rush hour. At least 2 were bunched leaving Back Bay. This is typical for the 39 line. Yet the T folks refuse to deal with this problem. Ironically the stops eliminated a few years ago were supposed to improve the route. Instead the route is still a mess.

T managers seem to have their heads in the ground where large events are concerned. Last week there was an event that resulted in 300 - 400 people waiting for a Silver bus at South Station. The delay was at least 15 minutes plus the especially large number of folks who wound up at the station. The T apparently was lost where making sure there were enough Silver buses at 9:30 AM on a weekday morning.

I will give them that the Orange line seems to be running better. At least there are less occasion of 3 FH bound trains for each Oak Grove train on the end of morning rush hour.

But that will probably resume when they close an Orange line track for what is becoming another interminable transportation project at FH.

Do the masters of state government just hate public transportation? It is hard to believe that these masters of governance are more than ambivalent about public transportation, leaning toward viewing it as a necessary evil. Or does the majority of the legislature just see people who use Boston oriented public transportation as various colors of trash to be squeezed for money? And to return the squeeze with what an angry monkey throws at people?

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I took the most recent Blue Book data and entered the numbers for number of trains and ridership into a spreadsheet, broken down by weekday, Saturday and Sunday.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1_5A9ziNUWsgfnhRXT5e_634kFgGOgfzS...

Overall, Saturdays see 28% of the number of trains a weekday sees, with 20% of the ridership. The Saturday percentage of riders on the Haverhill and Lowell lines is greater than the Saturday percentage of trains that run, and the number is close for the Rockport/Newburyport line.

Given the pathetic weekend schedules — 3-hour gaps on some lines — these numbers are not so shabby.

From the article:

According to May 2016 statistics from Keolis Commuter Services, the company that runs the commuter rail, trains provided about 8,300 trips heading toward Boston on Saturdays and 4,500 on Sundays.

Either weekend ridership has markedly slipped from 2013, or neither Keolis nor the T has any real sense of ridership. (Not surprising, given the manual nature of commuter rail fare collection.)

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This comes up again and again. Staff collection method just do not seem to work. So maybe go to turnstiles. Yes, it might cost a considerable amount of money. But it yields two things: cash, every time someone rides, and data that will show real ridership stats.

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Weekend ridership I'm sure is down significantly since 2013 - given how much fares have increased, how much gas prices have decreased, and how much CR ridership is down overall.

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...since that time we've also had major construction shutdowns on Fitchburg and Old Colony lines, and sometimes Haverhill. That's naturally going to cause a ridership drop.

For the record, I'm fine with weekend shutdowns line-by-line as needed if there is significant work to do. That's normal, and though ridership losses are unfortunate, it's a necessary evil. Killing the whole weekend system just seems like a play out of the bad old days of death by temporary substitution or closure.*

*This is where my Philly-area roots make me even more worried...just look at the history of big chunks of the rail system abandoned there in the 80's and 90's.

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It's always a bad sign when you have to invoke comparisons to S(IN)EPTA!

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SEPTA commuter rail somehow manages to run a heck of a lot more frequently than the T, despite similar ridership numbers.

Could you imagine a commuter rail line that runs every half hour off-peak on weekdays, and every hour on weekends? And 1:30 am outbound departures on weekends? SEPTA has plenty of them.

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Here is the discussion of budget reduction options direct from the source:

http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/About_the_T/Board_Meetings/19.%20%20FI...

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If you value weekend commuter rail service, support services enabling disabled people access to doctor's appointments, and/or want to reduce greenhouse gases to help address global warming, write or call your state representatives and let them know! State Senator Michael Barrett said at a panel I attended that even 10 emails from constituents would put an issue on his radar.

It really does have an effect. We were able to save the West Concord commuter rail station last year when they proposed to eliminate it for budget reasons.

Thank you.

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So since I can only get service 5 days a week will my $200 a month pass be reduced?

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