Red Line ridership off 10% after derailment

During week after incident tap-ins were off 5.9 percent

RED LINE RIDERSHIP dropped roughly 10 percent the week a train derailed at the JFK/UMass Station and it only partially recovered the following week, according to the latest figures available.

The number of so-called tap-ins on the Red Line – people using Charlie Cards or tickets to pass through the fare gates – typically hovers either slightly below or slightly above 200,000 a day during the week. Mondays and Fridays are typically just below 200,000, while tap-ins regularly exceed 200,000 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

On Tuesday June 11, when a Red Line train derailed at the JFK/UMass Station, tap-ins fell to just above 150,000, or 25 percent less than usual. Ridership rebounded on Wednesday to just under 200,000, but then fell back to around 175,000 the next two days.

The following week, as it became clear that the damage caused by the derailment would cause continued delays of up to 20 minutes on the Red Line, tap-ins never topped 200,000.

According to the MBTA, the average number of tap-ins on weekdays during June 2018 was 202,046. During the first week of June this year, the average number of tap-ins on weekdays was 207,097, an increase of 2.5 percent.

During the second week of June 2019, when the derailment occurred, the average number of tap-ins was 181,236, off 10.3 percent from 2018 levels. During the third week of June, the average number of tap-ins was 190,126, down 5.9 percent from 2018 levels.

“We are pleased to see in week three that there was recovery, there was less of a drop,” said Laurel Paget-Seekins, the T’s assistant general manager for policy.

The big question is whether ridership will fully rebound. MBTA officials say the derailment knocked out three sheds at the JFK/UMass Station filled with electronic signal and switching equipment. While the equipment is being replaced, the T is manually controlling train traffic in the vicinity around JFK/UMass, which is slowing down travel by up to 20 minutes. Officials say the system is unlikely to be back to normal until Labor Day.

It’s unclear whether riders who abandoned the Red Line in the wake of the derailment shifted to other forms of transit (commuter rail or bus are possibilities) or whether they shifted to personal vehicles or ride-hailing apps.

The Red Line is the MBTA’s busiest subway line. Subways handle nearly 60 percent of all MBTA trips on a daily basis. The subway system has been struggling to build ridership, and the derailment undoubtedly set that effort back.

The biggest dropoff in ridership during the week of the derailment occurred at stations in the immediate vicinity of the JFK/UMass station, where delays were most severe. Compared to 2018 levels, tap-ins were down 27 percent at the Red Line’s Quincy stations (Braintree, Quincy Adams, Quincy Center, and North Quincy) and nearly 23 percent at the Dorchester stations (Ashmont, Shawmut, Fields Corner, Savin Hill, JFK/UMass).  The following week tap-ins were down 15.6 percent at the Quincy stations and 9.3 percent at the Dorchester stations compared to typical 2018 levels.

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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.

Tap-ins were also off at the South Boston stations (Andrew and Broadway) on the Red Line – 14.1 percent the week of the derailment and 11 percent the following week.

Other Red Line stations downtown and in Cambridge saw less of an impact, with tap-ins dropping less than 3 percent.

Paget-Seekins said her analysis of the data indicated the decline in tap-ins was more pronounced at morning peak travel times on the Quincy and Dorchester branches of the Red Line.