You Don't Need a Study to Figure Out Declining T Ridership

Monday, November 26, 2018

The economy of metropolitan Boston is booming, employment is near historic highs, and more young people than ever want to live and work in Boston, so one would think that ridership on the MBTA would be increasing.  One would think wrong.

According to a report delivered during a meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board today in Boston, overall subway ridership is down 1.6 percent for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1-September 30, 2018).

Things are worse on the subway line I frequent. The board was informed that, over the past five years, ridership has declined 2.5 percent on the Orange Line, which runs from Oak Grove Station in Malden, at the Melrose line, to Forest Hills Station in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston.

I hope they won't spend on a marketing study to determine why riders are shunning the T. The reasons are obvious to anyone who has to use the T: on the Orange and Red subway lines, for example, service is generally slow, equipment breakdowns and "signal problems" are common, and the cars are packed tighter than a carry-on bag on an airplane.

During rush hours, you often can't get on a train when one finally arrives, and if you are able to squeeze in one of the fully functioning doors, you have an involuntary up-close-and-personal experience with total strangers for next 15 or 20 minutes.  The strangers love it as much as you.

We ride the Orange and Red lines because we have no other way of getting to or from work.  Captive audiences are us. 

If you can opt out of the T, you have.

A few minutes after I read the State House News Service account of today's control board session, I happened upon Globe reporter Adam Vaccaro's article on, "Old Orange Line cars gear up for their final rides."The first cars of what will be a new fleet of 150 Orange Line cars are expected to be put into service late this year or early next, the article said.  Hallelujah!

I'm not going out on a limb when I predict Orange Line ridership will be up at least a couple of points by this time next year.

Here's another discouraging number that emerged at the control board:  since the FY 19 T budget was adopted several months ago, the projected overall cost of paying pensions to T employees this fiscal year has risen from $97 million to $103 million.

T pension cost are "entirely unsustainable" if you look at the trend line, said board member Brian Shortsleeve.  Will he please give us his sleeve to cry on?

A metro area taxpayer may have a choice of whether to ride the T but no choice on supporting its retirees.  Ouch.

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