Patriots set another record
T reports highest commuter rail ridership in history
SANDWICHED BY BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK winter storms, commuter rail officials had one more challenge to deal with last week: The highest one-day ridership in the history of the service with fans coming into Boston for the New England Patriots Super Bowl parade.
MBTA Acting General Manager Brian Shorstsleeve told an informal meeting of the oversight board on Monday that 215,000 people rode the trains into town, a 60 percent increase over the average daily ridership. Shortsleeve said commuter rail operator Keolis added 24 extra trains to accommodate the heavy traffic, which coincided with a rainy and snowy day. While ridership was heavy on other MBTA services, T officials did not have numbers for any of those.
Shortsleeve said the parade of champions on Tuesday was just one of several challenges the agency faced as a heavy snowstorm swept through the region on Thursday followed by another on Friday and then icy conditions with some sleet on Monday. It was the first extended test for the T’s emergency preparedness since the chaos of the winter of 2015 that resulted in weeks of cancelled and delayed service, especially on commuter rail lines, and the resignation of then-general manager Beverly Scott.
The T spent more than $140 million on winter resiliency, including replacing older third rails and switches, adding heaters to more than 50 switch locations, and repairing and replacing engines on Orange Line cars. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and the two members of the Fiscal Management and Control Board who were at the meeting showered praise on the T. The board was created at the urging of Gov. Charlie Baker as part of the overhaul of T operations in the wake of the fiasco.
“It doesn’t feel to me anything like 2015,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “These storms felt like there were professionals in place with a plan. There has been an immense change in the organization in the last two years.”
Board Chairman Joseph Aiello said the response to the storms and the flood of parade-goers was “really, really terrific.” Aiello focused on the commuter rail performance reports that showed there were only five cancellations across the lines all last week, none on the day of the parade. While on-time performance lagged, T officials attributed that to the crush of passengers that made boarding slower.
The day of the parade was “all hands on deck” for the agency. Even MBTA General Counsel John Englander, who usually wears a suit and tie in meetings, was out at one of the subway stations in a yellow vest assisting riders with the ticket vending machines.Board member Steve Poftak said the round-the-clock management of the trains and the weather response showed a sea-change in the mindset not only of T workers but how the public views the agency.
“The public doesn’t often get to see the number of challenges you face on a regular basis,” said Poftak. “This is an MBTA that’s ready for challenges. We have an MBTA that is resilient.”