Biotech workers driving more, using the T less

Survey indicates 57% drive alone to work, up from 44% in 2019

SURVEYS OF LIFE science employees by MassBio in July 2019 and November 2022 indicate workers are now driving more and using public transportation less.

The survey results mirror what the MBTA itself is finding, that many riders who stopped taking the T during the pandemic are not returning. The T is currently projecting that its ridership will not return to prepandemic levels within the next five years.

The surveys by MassBio may be even more alarming because many life science workers have never stopped commuting to work.

According to the November survey of 1,338 people working in life sciences in the Greater Boston area, one-third of the employees are in the office every day, while two-thirds work from home at least one day a week.

The 2022 survey indicated 57 percent of employees drive alone to work, up from 44 percent in 2019. The more recent survey indicated 25 percent used bus, subway, or commuter rail to get to work, down from 41 percent in 2019.

Workers in 2022 said they shifted to driving because it was faster (59 percent) or because public transit was too unreliable (40 percent). Significant percentages also said public transit schedules didn’t sync up with their work schedule (34 percent) or public transit wasn’t available where they work or live (32 percent).

Those who used public transit before COVID were asked what happened after the pandemic hit – 41 percent said they continued to use public transit, while 35 percent switched to driving, 10 percent switched to some combination of driving and public transit, and 15 percent switched to some other form of transportation.

The two surveys suggest public transit riders are not happy with MBTA service, but the more recent survey found some areas of improvement.. For example, 61 percent of life sciences workers surveyed in November said they had been late to work because of T delays, but that percentage was 79 percent in 2019.  Similarly, 57 percent of workers were late for personal commitments after work because of T delays, which was down from 69 percent in 2019.

In a statement, Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, the president and incoming CEO of MassBio, demanded that policymakers on Beacon Hill address what she called “failing transportation infrastructure and fewer commuting options.”

She noted biotech workers represent one of the bright spots in the state’s economy, but commuting burdens could jeopardize the state’s ability to retain them.

“We look forward to partnering with the new governor and her administration to develop and implement strategies that not only fix what is failing, but also plan for the future,” she said.