Baker to MBTA riders: Get back on board

‘I can’t think of a less risky activity,’ he says

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER, who is apparently becoming a regular Blue Line commuter, said the MBTA is perfectly safe and urged his fellow riders to get back on board.

“I’ve ridden the T since the pandemic and I believe it’s safe,” he said at a State House press conference. “There’s plenty of distance.”

The MBTA has seen its fare revenue plunge as ridership across the system has tanked during the pandemic.  Baker, talking now with the experience of someone who rides the T, encouraged people to start riding it more. “I’d really like to see people give the public transit system a try,” he said.

“What do people do when they ride the public transit system for the most part? This is what they do,” he said, stepping away from the podium and acting as if he was looking down at his phone. “Honestly, I can’t think of a less risky activity. There’s not a lot of talking. There is certainly not a lot of yelling. There’s very little engagement. Most people have their headphones on and are looking down at their phones.”

Baker made his comments when asked about MBTA plans to cut back service levels fairly dramatically next year to cover a projected shortfall of between $300 million and $600 million in fiscal 2022. Baker said ridership on the MBTA lines varies quite dramatically, and it makes sense to shift resources from a mode going largely unused to one that is seeing more use. He noted it’s not uncommon for a rider on some commuter rail lines to have a car all to themselves.

“That’s a really big deal and a fundamental issue” he said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Ridership on all of the MBTA’s services is down. Bus has recovered the best, back to about 40 to 50 percent of pre-COVID levels depending on the route. Of the subway lines, the Blue Line has fared the best, back to nearly 40 percent of pre-COVID levels. The Red Line is back to about 21 percent and the Green Line 19 percent. Commuter rail ridership is off roughly 88 percent compared to pre-COVID.

Baker let slip he rode the T in January and February and said he planned to ride it more. He seems to be enjoying riding the T, delighting in telling stories of what it’s like to ride the Blue Line. For years, he stubbornly resisted the idea of riding the system, taking heat for it from leader of the state Democratic Party who often dispatched people to follow the governor holding signs urging him to ride the T. Now it’s the governor doing the urging.