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MBTA proposes cutting service 20%, stopping subways at midnight, ending weekend commuter-rail service as ridership plunges

Karyn Regal at WBZ Newsradio breaks it down: Less subway service, commuter rail stops at 9 on weekdays and doesn't run at all on weekends, no more ferry service and the T might finally make good on its long-standing desire to just kill the E Line altogether past Brigham Circle.

The T says none of the changes are permanent but are a reflection of the times:

As a result of the decline in ridership that is similarly impacting transit agencies across the country, the MBTA is now only transporting 330,000 trips on an average weekday – but is continuing to run the same high levels of service as it ran to serve 1.26 million daily trips prior to the pandemic, an unsustainable level of service delivery. ...

The proposed base service levels are designed to ensure adequate capacity for all essential services as well as a reduced level of non-essential service that is still viable for most of those who are currently using the T. The T’s base service includes approximately eighty essential bus routes, The Ride, the whole of the rapid transit system including subway, and the Fairmont Commuter Rail line. ...

The proposed service changes announced today will not go into effect immediately. While some service changes on the Commuter Rail could take place as early as January 2021, the changes to Commuter Rail would be made in March, rapid transit changes would be made in spring 2021, and buses changes would happen later in the summer. This will allow the MBTA to adjust the proposed basic service if warranted by changes in ridership and if additional, durable revenue becomes available.

Public meetings planned.

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As always, cutting the lowest rungs of the ladder will disproportionately affect the poorest of us, and ultimately will hurt all of us.

Whether or not office workers around the region go back to the same commuting patterns in the next year or so (or ever, really), there is an inflexible base of key workers who live in the city and rely on current services to do their jobs and live their lives.

If those thousands of workers need to switch to cars, that's not just an inefficient economic burden that will be felt elsewhere, but will also cancel out any traffic / road maintenance gains we've seen in the WFH era.

Sure, they say it's "not permanent," but reduced service will have consequences immediately. At some point, it's gotta be a better use of our broader state economy to support the MBTA through lower-demand months. I really want to hear the state talking about a plan for increased funding after the pandemic.

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Federal support is needed in size and like yesterday or else this is a preview of coming attractions for services throughout the Commonwealth. Yeah it is very problematic long term and detrimental in numerous ways, but the state can’t print money or deficit spend. The fix has to be Federal.

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I do honestly get that, and I do also hope for (additional) federal assistance.

But in reality, overall wealth in the commonwealth (individual wealth, income, housing value, etc.) has increased greatly over the decades, while funding has floundered. We need the legislature to increase taxes to help pay for our own services. Make it progressive, and take more heavily from the richest among us. Look beyond emergency funding and show the commonwealth an exciting plan for the future.

I know it's the least popular pitch in the history of the country, but it's needed. And if we put in the work, I'm sure we can convince a lot of our neighbors of the value we'd be getting back.

Massachusetts claims to be progressive and yet the gas tax hasn't been raised one cent since forever and the the $457 million dollar State Police budget is not on the table. Gotta keep brown people in check but when it comes to providing equitable transportation options, we get crickets and cuts.

Let's start by asking for our money back to pay for it, since we're a net payer of federal funds. Maybe corn farmers and General Dynamics can hold a bake sale or something.

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Hard to see how it could get rainier than this

I don't think the poorest of us all will be impacted by termination of ferry service, or elimination or Newburyport/Rockport line. I think the commuters from Hingham can make the 15 min drive to the Quincy red line without a major inconvenience.

Maybe long-term a better word, but the full presentation admits restart of these services is 1-2 year plus from approval to restart and that ridership is likely to outpace service on the way back up.

Also some amount of mothballing costs for the equipment

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Sure, they say it's "not permanent"...

Just like the "temporary" switch from trolleys to buses along the old A branch (to Watertown), or the "temporary" suspension of service between Heath Street & Arborway on the E branch.

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But the Pike killed the A Line. There was no way it was going to last with it running contra-traffic. As for the E-Line, yeah, at the current state of things buses are better on that corridor. Street running green line is pretty rough and a big drain on ops of the rest of the system. Without squeezing a dedicated ROW all the way out to Arborway, it was the right choice to not bring it back.

Street running green line is pretty rough and a big drain on ops of the rest of the system

Other light rail systems run in mixed traffic and seem to have no problems. Yet this is always the MBTA's excuse.

As I always say, where there's political will, there's a way. We just don't have the political will.

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buses are not any more efficient than cars in getting around the city, since buses, too, sit in traffic, especially during the morning and late afternoon/evening rush hours. If anything gets done, they should bring the trackless trolleys back.

After all roads don't need to somehow pay for themselves.

Short sighted and stupid. Yes, the MBTA will lose a lot of money in 2021. No, it wasn't going to be a permanent trend.

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As that particular road does pay for itself through fees charged to motorists.

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$1.2B is a lot of MA Pike tolls. Also if you think it will actually cost 'only' $1.2B, I have an underground tunnel project to sell you in downtown Boston.

Per the MA DOT figures, the total revenue from tolls in 2020 was projected at $459m for all MA Dot tolls. I assume this includes stuff like the Tobin as well.

https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2019/05/21/MassDOT_FY20_Budget.pdf

So, no, it really doesn't pay for itself completely, same as the MBTA. It's a net public good which requires public funding.

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MassDOT will sell bonds to pay for the project. Those bonds will be paid off through toll revenue. Say they are 20 year bonds, we are talking about taking that money from $9.1 billion in revenue, assuming they don't raise tolls on that particular gantry to pay things off.

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You apparently can't understand the long term damage in terms of smarter transportation growth around the region created by crushing the MBTA during two off years I guess. The state of MA could sell bonds to cover funding shortfalls or move the Big Dig costs back to the DOT or do many things to deal with budget issues but people like are why they don't.

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You don’t sell bonds to cover operating costs. Bonds are typically used for capital investment. Bond buyers don’t like seeing a bond prospectus that says that there is no new capital produced by the money.

Also, great job moving the goal posts, but the Turnpike reconstruction will be paid for by the tolls paid by Turnpike users.

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Now that we have electronic tolling is there any reason not to have them on I-93 (and Storrow and Morrissey etc)?

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Agree on that except Morrissey. There are homes (about to be a lot more) and businesses on the whole length of Morrissey and it is the main access the Port Norfolk neighborhood and UMass/Harborpoint.

One of the previous five or six times this question came up, somebody linked to a pretty good explanation of what hoops might have to be jumped through to permit placing tolls on roads that were built with federal funds.

That's why Pike tolls inside 128 subsidize the 93 tunnel. The Pike already had tolls, so it was trivial to raise them and send the money to a free road.

Of course there's no legitimate reason why a subsidy should flow in this direction. North-south drivers aren't somehow more worthy than east-west drivers.

Here's a radical idea: send some tolls to transit. Raise rush hour Pike tolls until there's no traffic jam, and use the money to run more trains on the Worcester Line, more express buses to more places (which would run faster due to the reduced car traffic), and speed up the Green Line.

Which is to say, it's gotten continuously easier to implement tolling on interstates over the past decade or so.

Harvard and mdot are swapping land so Harvard can build on the current I-90 land once the pike is straightened (they own the freight track land now). Plus this change will make West Station and the North Station link feasible if not done at the same time (should be but we need to vote out Baker first I think).

Includes the Boston Extension and the tunnels/Tobin. It generated around $220 million in toll revenue in FY 2018. A project like redoing the Pike in Allston will have a life of 50-70 years although there will be some periodic maintenance costs over time. But amortizing over 50 years, $1.2 billion works out to around $24 million/year, easily covered by toll revenue. And if the Mass Pike needs more revenue to cover the cost of the project, they can just raise the tolls.

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https://twitter.com/adrianaclimbs/status/1311714757083303937?s=19

Although people who live in Boston's urban core contribute fewer CO2 emissions from private vehicles, they experience worse air quality.

https://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/report-transportation-fu...

We also need $6.5 billion more than is budgeted over the next 10 years to maintain roads, bridges, and tunnels.

How is this paying for itself?

Have they heard of toll booths?

Bold of anyone to assume there’s competence or long-term planning at the MBTA.

Hell, even SEPTA manages to provide a baseline of 24/7 service, and Philly is 10x more dysfunctional than we are.

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Here are their cuts.

It's kind of a nationwide problem. Less riders means less fares. Less fares means less revenue for the systems. The parent government levels are not doing well on their own, so the option is cutting services. Or federal intervention.

Perhaps I will mention New York's vaunted and despised MTA while I'm writing. Not looking good.

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That makes sense: cut the service after the pandemic ends, not during.

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Most/many of the bus routes were cut to Saturday service levels on weekdays, and commuter rail lines ran less frequently.

Maybe not as drastic as some of the cuts I'm seeing in their proposal today (e.g. no evening service on most bus routes), but there was some pullback.

Driving by where Iive. Clearly not many people were riding the bus in some areas, so they should have temporarily cut back more then.

This proposal is terrible. Many people use public transportation for more than just work.

How, exactly, does eliminating service on the E branch past Brigham Circle, save money? Instead of turning around in a loop, the trolley must be manually switched at Brigham Circle now. Unless I’m missing something here...

Stephanie Pollack has been a rolling disaster for transportation in our state.

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Right?

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Hmm, no, I find that a pretty weird claim-- how do you feel she caused Covid?

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You're the one claiming she is somehow responsible for decreased fare revenue, where most would look at Covid as the issue. Using transitive properties, you are blaming her for Covid.

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Ah sorry, I think there was a misunderstanding :) I was referring to her 5-year record as an agency head, including some decisions made over the past 8 months in response to Covid, which it sounds like we both agree was not caused by her.

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During the Pandemic.

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No no no no. Once it is gone, it does not come back.

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Just ask anyone who rode the E line to Arborway on December 27th, 1985 ...

**ducks**

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The MBTA is spending 1 Billion Dollars on a new fare collection system. (Not a typo.) It's already many years behind schedule. So here's a much better idea:

Cancel the new fare collection system and keep whatever money had not yet been spent on that project.

Make the T free for riders. Already, rider fares only account for a small percentage of the cost of running the system. (The rest comes from the Feds and Mass.)

No longer spending spending money on the current fare collection will save the T a boatload of cash. It's also socially and environmentally the right thing to do.

Keep the service levels the same. If they need to find extra money, raise the tolls and other single occupancy transportation fees.

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These sound like mostly "common sense" ideas, however I bet as you delve into the details they may not be the panacea they would appear to be.

I'm guessing that contracts are signed for the new fare system that cannot just be torn up. If you suddenly make the T free, you really lose a ton of revenue that they desperately need. How much? I don't know, but all those monthly T passes have to add up to some meaningful number. Working out a system where "the people who really need it" (definition to be determined) can ride for free is absolutely the right thing to do. Right now they need to keep the trains running and sorting out how to pay to do that has to be job #1.

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Michelle Wu had a great opinion piece in the Globe about this a couple years ago: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2019/01/31/opinion-michelle-forget-f...

I don't know how easy it would be to get out of the contract for the new payment system, but in 2018 fares were only bringing in 20% of revenue. With reduced ridership, it's likely going to be less than that for months or years to come. The benefits of going fare-free make it absolutely worth looking into, either way.

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Even if they cut service by 20% they won't save 20% since so many things are on a contract regardless. That's why not seriously considering making the T free is such mistake.

Baker and others hate the T. It's expensive and difficult to manage. T riders disproportionally are people who don't vote and aren't politically active. Sadly, I don't expect them to consider anything other than service cuts.

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Why did they sign the contracts in the first place?

Even before the budget crisis caused by COVID, a billion dollar fare collection system was incredibly stupid.

Is the capital, operating, and maintenance cost of the new fare collection system over ten years. Cost per year averages out to be $100 million. The T collected $762 million in fares in 2019. So you're talking about a budget hole of about $660 million per year which would continue to escalate over time.

The environmental benefits of a free transit system are overstated IMO. Few people choose to drive, rideshare, or take cabs because the T is too expensive.

The T is cutting service because fares collected are down dramatically. How does cutting fares to zero fix that?

Once they cut service fare revenue will be down even more. So should they keep cutting service to match?

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Maybe not for the subway at $2.40 or $90 per month.

But people absolutely do choose to drive because the Commuter Rail or express bus is too expensive. You don't have to go that far out before your monthly ticket is more than $300.

For people on an irregular schedule, it's a little better for the time being with the flex fare pilot, but if that goes away, there's no pass option at all, and you have pay upwards of $20 a day on train tickets.

Anyone who has parking at their workplace wouldn't choose to deal with this.

The seismic shift in the workforce from working downtown to working at home has taken away a large percentage of the T's customer base. No tourists, no Garden events, no students from either colleges and high schools have decimated the ridership. No mention of layoffs in the workforce but reducing the number of workers is inevitable.

There should be trip- wires set up, so that reaching x volume of ridership, or opening x part of the economy, automaticly triggers resumption of normal T service.

“i have been through hurricanes, ive been through world trade center bombings, tornadoes coming, 30 inches, 36 inches and all that, so this aint this womans first rodeo.”

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It's too bad this didn't push them to run more efficiently. Trim the inspectors (how many people does it take to do the nightly shutdown process at each station?) but keep the subways and buses running. Rethink the whole commuter rail operation, especially off peak. Think single-employee railbus, not hauling 8 giant hunks of metal back and forth to Worcester all day with 3 or more employees and only 1 car open.

Much smaller cities in Europe have much better rail and bus networks. And they have high labor costs and plenty of regulations, same as us. We should look at how they do it, not just say it's the same old thing or nothing.

... on the commuter rail last week. This week they want to cut it back to serve only nine to fivers? Idiotic flip floppers.
This will mean the end of tourism to Salem, Gloucester, Rockport and many other towns. Hospital workers and caretakers working irregular shifts will not make it to Boston to treat the sick. Thousands more will be stranded.

This is backwards thinking. When is Charlie “I Didn’t Vote” Baker going to step out of his limo and face reality?

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No it won't. It will just mean the end of tourism for people who don't drive. The terrible schedules mean that anyone with a car would be nuts to take the train on the weekend.

The high fares used to be a deterrent as well, but the $10 weekend pass solved that problem.

What's our state rainy-day fund sitting at right now?

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If the secretive pension fund is ever made public.

http://www.wbur.org/news/2020/07/29/mbta-pension-fund-underperformance

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Charlie M. F. Baker can take a long chauffeured SUV ride off a short Swampscott pier!

The man has spent his professional politicaa a l career on what appears to be a single-minded ambition to DESTROY public transportation in favor of private cars.

Most people have no idea it was Charlie M.F. Baker who, as Gov. Weld's director of Administration and Finance, concocted a financing scheme to cover billions of dollars in Big Dig "cost overruns" that shifted the debt onto the MBTA. Most people don't know that, around the same time, the Legislature decided that they would shift the MBTA to a "forward funding" model, instead of simply covering their costs. The result of this financial engineering was twenty-five years of deferred maintenance, layoffs, and reductions in service that have brought us to this desperate moment.

Charlie M. F. Baker had the audacity to starve the MBTA for more than 20 years, and then point to the agency and accuse them of poor financial performance, as a means of further immiserating the region's transit riders.

The man is an anti-social menace, and I, for one, can not WAIT to see the back of him as he exits Beacon Hill.

I propose they eliminate the Bid Red cars.

With all the talk of cutting service, interesting that their map shows the 16 as running all the way to E 1st Street.

https://www.mbta.com/forging-ahead?utm_campaign=curated-content&utm_cont...

There is one Route 16 trip on school-days in the morning that runs all the way to City Point (like a Route 10) to provide a one-seat ride for high school kids.

thank you

Are they going to shut down streets to cars? Fewer people are using them and cars are costing the state billions per year.

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I've seen plenty of traffic recently.

If a street took several full-time employees to operate, and got less than a dozen cars a day, they certainly would shut it down.

That you get no deliveries to your house or to any market you shop at.

The reality is that they could probably defer maintenance somewhat if there is a shortfall in gas tax revenue, but people are driving and thereby paying their gas taxes. It's kind of preferable by many to commuting with strangers in vehicles with questionable ventilation.

What has Huntington / South Huntington Ave done to the MBTA? How much money will they actually save?

On a related note, it seems like the T's using COVID as an excuse to get out of everything that they find the least bit complicated! Besides street-running GL trains, there's also the catenary wires in Cambridge (71/73) and the South Boston Transitway (SL1/2/3)...

of transit oriented development just collapsed.

Cutting service due to decreased ridership isn't unreasonable, but this seems way too late. Maybe I'm overly optimistic but I'm hoping that things will start looking better, covid-wise, at some point in 2021. These cuts don't even start until spring 2021.

The literally just finished laying new tracks and repaving between Brigham Circle and Heath St. So now they're not going to use them? Ridiculous.

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I used to live in Mission Hill and still get neighborhood news email blasts from Richard Giordano (bless this man and his patience for compiling bimonthly unofficial newsletters for neighbors in the area). It took months of community input and planning for the city to successfully engage in laying the new track down in August this summer...and now that it's done, the T thinks it's a good moment to remove service from Heath St. to Brigham Circle?! Don't get me wrong, I think the redundancy of service between the E line and the 39 is a bit ridiculous...but this seems like a conversation that should've happened before thousands were spent on new tracks and paving.

A train carrying 50 people costs the same to run as one carrying 500.

Costs aren't tied to ridership so why is revenue?

A free tax funded MBTA would mean better, more consistent service.

Part of this proposal will cut the two main bus routes from the Oak Grove stop to the city of Melrose/Wakefield, effectively cutting off the cities from the T. Terrible decision that I hope is rescinded.