No worries with ‘crowded’ Red Line train

I took a Red Line train last week that was crowded according to the MBTA’s COVID-19 crowding standards, but the consensus on this week’s Codcast was that I didn’t need to worry.

My train car last Tuesday had about 65 people on it, one shy of the level the T says qualifies as crowded on a Red Line car. All of the passengers were wearing masks. Those seated had at least one seat separating them from other passengers. There were people standing in the middle of the car often near other passengers.

Jim Aloisi, the former secretary of transportation and TransitMatters board member, called my story on the crowded train ride a mild over-reaction “Your article might have given people an impression that they should be fearful of a situation that I don’t think is any more or less risky than any of the other activities that people do normally all the time,” he said.

Aloisi called the T a “fairly low-risk environment” as long as riders don’t spend too long on trains, keep their distance from other passengers, wear face coverings, and use trains where the ventilation system is working properly.

“If you look at those factors, it struck me that your experience was pretty good,” Aloisi said. “There is no such thing as leaving your home to zero risk in the middle of a pandemic.”

Aloisi said the biggest risk in riding the subway system is if a train breaks down and the ventilation system goes out. Then you could have a problem, he said, noting that breakdowns were not uncommon prior to the coronavirus.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of public transportation,” said Caitlin Allen-Connelly, the program director at the business group A Better City. She said the average commuting time for T riders is around 29 minutes and in low-income communities it can rise to an hour. The key for riders, she said, is to wear face coverings and keep their distance from other passengers.

Overall, Allen-Connelly said, the T is doing a good job of cleaning buses and subways. Even though the total number of passengers is way down, the T is operating much of the bus and subway system at pre-COVID levels, to keep the number of passengers per vehicle down. On the bus system, where more riders have returned, the T has developed an app that allows riders to see how many passengers are on the next bus and determine whether they want to get on board or not.

The T’s crowding standard says a 40-foot bus is now crowded if 20 people are aboard, compared to 56 pre-COVID. It’s 46 passengers on a Green Line trolley instead of 100, 62 on an Orange Line car instead of 141, and 42 on a Blue Line car instead of 86. Those passenger levels use a World Health Organization standard of just over three feet of separation between passengers.

The crowding numbers are much smaller using the US Centers of Disease Control standard of 6 feet of separation. According to an analysis by A Better City, which calculated passenger levels slightly differently than the T, a 40-foot bus would be crowded with 10 passengers using 6 feet of separation, a Green Line car with 18, and a Red Line car with 21.

Allen-Connelly said most transit systems are using the 3-foot social distancing protocol the T is following and she thinks that is acceptable. She said the T is doing its part and passengers need to do theirs, wearing masks, using sanitizer, and staying off the system if they feel sick.

“The notion that we need to adopt here is that it’s a shared responsibility,” she said.

Will Molloy of Dorchester is someone who used the Red Line to commute to work pre-COVID and occasionally used it to go into town to visit friends. He said he hasn’t used the T since April because he’s working at home and he gets around now by Uber or Blue Bike.

How much space does he think is acceptable between passengers? “Having at least one seat between us I’d feel comfortable,” M0lloy said. “That’s about how much room I’m apart from other people at the gym and I feel comfortable. Scientifically, maybe that’s not the best answer, but I don’t know.”

Neither Allen-Connelly nor Aloisi are riding the T currently – Allen-Connelly because she’s a commuter rail rider and she’s working from home now and Aloisi because of a non-COVID personal health issue. Aloisi said he can’t wait to get back on the T.

“I can honestly say, gosh do I miss it,” he said. “It was part of my life and it will be part of my life again. I miss it a great deal.” He said riding the T is key to avoid a return to a congested and polluting transportation system. “This is the way to go because our future depends on it.”

BRUCE  MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Instead of giving every community some amount of education aid, two business groups call for redirecting funding currently going to wealthy communities to poorer communities.

At a hearing on Friday, the Supreme Judicial Court seemed wary of upending the legal authority Gov. Charlie Baker is using to fight COVID-19.

Opinion: Jim Aloisi offers two examples of how the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the city of Boston are doubling down on the auto-centric policies of the past….Jim Jordan reports that a national mayors group is calling for a change in policing.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

BEACON HILL

The presidents and athletic directors at eight Massachusetts colleges and universities co-signed a letter to legislative leaders urging them not to authorize betting on college sports. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

In Central Massachusetts, worshippers are slow to return to services amid the pandemic. (Telegram & Gazette)

Swampscott, where Gov. Charlie Baker lives, requires masks be worn outside in four busy areas of downtown. (Daily Item)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he plans to implement “a lot” of the recommendations issued this week in a draft report from the Boston Police Task Force, commissioned to recommend reforms to the Boston Police Department. (GBH)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Cambridge, Newton, Somerville, and Watertown are now labeled high-risk for West Nile Virus. (Associated Press)

As of Sunday, the death toll from coronavirus in Massachusetts surpassed 9,000. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump signs a new executive order on prescription drug prices. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

Secretary of State Bill Galvin is sending out vote-by-mail applications to all voters who have not already requested a general election ballot. (Associated Press) The town clerk in Franklin, where thousands of ballots from the 4th Congressional District went uncounted until after primary day, resigns. (MassLive)

The Berkshire Eagle says there’s no reason to wait: It endorses Joe Biden for president. It also runs a separate editorial explaining why President Trump doesn’t deserve a second term.

Ranked-choice voting is almost certain to face legal challenges if voters approve a November ballot question that would bring the new voting system to Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)

Campaigning in Nevada, President Trump holds his first indoor rally since a late June event in Tulsa that was blamed for a surge of coronavirus cases in the area. The Nevada rally defied a state directive to limit indoor gatherings to no more than 50 people. (New York Times)

Barry Clairmont, the husband of Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, sues Melissa Mazzeo, his wife’s challenger in last year’s election, accusing her of defaming him by suggesting he tampered with ballots. (Berkshire Eagle)

Companies are telling employees they can take time off to vote — or even take Election Day off entirely to work at polling places. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Restaurants are figuring out how to get outdoor diners to keep coming even once the weather gets cold. (Telegram & Gazette)

The company that owns Boston Sports Club is filing for bankruptcy — but not going out of business. (MassLive)

Cape business owners and employees reflect on a season spent adapting to COVID-19. (Cape Cod Times)

There were sounds of silence as the New England Patriots began their season at an empty Gillette Stadium (The Enterprise) 

EDUCATION

Haverhill teachers entered school buildings for the first time Friday and complained of unsanitary conditions, like clogged sinks, mouse droppings, and blocked vents. (Eagle-Tribune)

Lincoln-Sudbury High School will delay its in-person start to school by two weeks, and have all students start remotely, after the police broke up a crowded student party. (MassLive)

Experts say the evidence points toward it being safe for children to return to school as long the overall coronavirus rate in their community is low and schools follow public health guidelines. (Boston Globe)

South Coast Conference student-athletes launched a petition to play this fall. (Standard-Times) 

MEDIA

Erik Wemple says recordings Fox News’s Tucker Carlson obtained of CNN rival Chris Cuomo coaching former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on how to answer questions offers a troubling look at the behind-scenes-world of cable news talk shows, but he says Cuomo’s offenses look like a misdemeanor “when placed alongside the collusive activities of someone like Fox News’s Sean Hannity with the White House.” (Washington Post)

PASSINGS

The Telegram & Gazette profiles Zoe Wolfus, a 16-year-old artist, athlete ,and straight-A student from Shewsbury who struggled with depression and anxiety and died by suicide.