MBTA ridership plummets, service being reduced

Subway ridership off an estimated 48 percent on Friday

WITH RIDERSHIP PLUMMETING, the MBTA said it would reduce most subway and bus service to Saturday levels and eliminate ferries starting on Tuesday.

“These changes are being made based on guidance from public health professionals and have been developed according to several criteria that seek to protect the health and safety of MBTA employees and customers, as well as recent reductions in ridership,” the T said in a press release. “Acknowledging guidance that recommends people avoid large crowds, the MBTA will operate at levels that support social distancing.”

Several hours after the service cutback announcement, the T released an analysis indicating ridership on the subway and commuter rail lines had fallen dramatically, while the falloff in bus ridership was less severe. Comparing average subway validations the week of February 24 to Tuesday through Friday of last week, the analysis indicated ridership fell more and more as the week went on, falling a total of 48 percent, or a total of 231,472 validations, on Friday. The hardest hit was the Silver Line, down 68 percent, followed by the Green Line (down 52 percent), the Red Line (down 51 percent), the Orange Line (down 47 percent), and the Blue Line (down 17 percent). The hardest hit stations on Friday were Community College on the Orange Line (down 71 percent), World Trade Center (down 70 percent), and Kendall/MIT, Arlington, Courthouse, JFK/UMass, and Alewife — all in the mid-to high 60 percent range.

“As you can see, stations where much of the ridership comes from a nearby college, or tends to be more white-collar, had a larger drop, while much of the Blue Line had a smaller drop,” the analysis said.

Commuter rail ridership is difficult for the T to gauge, but using parking receipts as a proxy for ridership the analysis found lots were 42 percent less-utilized last Thursday than they were on average during the week of February 24. The analysis said overall bus ridership was off about 32 percent from the week of February 24.

Offering less frequent buses and trains would appear to make sense given the steep dropoff in ridership as people hunker down and work from home, but it was unclear how fewer trains would promote social distancing. Still, Twitter was full of pictures of empty or near-empty rail and commuter rail cars.

Red Line trains will now run at 7 minute intervals, and every 14 minutes on the Braintree and Ashmont branches. Orange Line trains will run every 9 to 11 minutes and Blue Line trains every 9 to 13 minutes. The commuter rail will operate at reduced levels on all lines.

Buses will operates at reduced Saturday service levels, except for the 325, 326, 351, 352, 354, and 501 buses.

All ferries are being discontinued, while RIDE paratransit service is remaining the same.

For details on specific routes and services, consult mbta.com.

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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.

“As this situation evolves, the MBTA will continue assessing ridership needs with a particular focus on workforce access for hospitals, as well as food distribution locations operated by the City of Boston,” the T said. “As part of that ongoing assessment, the T will continue monitoring customer volumes and make service adjustments accordingly; this means if the T experiences an increase in ridership, capacity will be added as necessary. ”

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority announced similar steps on Friday reducing the frequency of service. That authority also said it was banning visitors to its operations center and creating two teams who will operate the system from two different locations to mitigate the risk of contagion at one facility bringing down the entire system.