MBTA says ridership won’t be back to normal in 5 years
Fare revenues likely to hit only 78% of pre-COVID levels
THE MBTA is not expecting ridership to return to pre-COVID levels within the next five years, even with the addition of new services like the Green Line extension and South Coast Rail.
Under the T’s most optimistic ridership scenario, fare revenue will only reach 93 percent of pre-COVID levels by the end of fiscal 2028. Under the scenario the T believes is most likely, fare revenue will hit 78 percent of pre-COVID levels in fiscal 2028.
The latest projections suggest ridership growth is slowing. When the T released a similar analysis a year ago, it projected fare revenue would reach 93 percent of pre-COVID levels in fiscal 2027 under the most optimistic scenario and 78 percent under the most likely scenario. Now those estimates have just been pushed out another year,
Ridership and fare projections are important to the MBTA’s financial health, but they also have broader ramifications for the state’s efforts to fight climate change and bolster the economy.
The fare revenue projection was included in an initial pass at a five-year budget outlook for the MBTA that was presented on Wednesday to a subcommittee of the T board of directors.
The outlook indicated federal and state aid should be enough to push off the transit authority’s financial day of reckoning a couple more years, Officials said the MBTA should be able to make it through the current fiscal year and the following two (fiscal 2024 and 2025) with no shortfall or a small one.
But starting in fiscal 2026 (July 2025), the T’s operating budget is projected to fall into a deep hole, as one-time revenues run out and expenses continue to mount.
Earlier, the T had forecast the hole would emerge in fiscal 2024 – thus the postponed day of reckoning.
Key lawmakers say the T needs a new revenue stream and that issue could be taken up next year.
“I am delighted that the sales tax revenue is as robust as it is and that the federal dollars are available,” said MBTA Board Chair Betsy Taylor. “Having said that, the fact that we are draining all our reserves and the available federal dollars for operating expenses means that they are not available for capital.”