Red Line train gets a bit close for comfort

Riders on afternoon train near T’s crowding standard

I rode in a Red Line car on Tuesday afternoon that was very near the MBTA’s crowding standard, and it felt like passengers were close together.

I knew something was different when I walked out on the platform at Park Street Station at about 3:20 p.m. In contrast with similar trips over the last five months, the platform had a lot of passengers waiting for a train. When my train to Ashmont pulled in, a lot of those passengers boarded the train.

By my count, we had about 58 passengers in my car when it left Park Street Station and about 65 when it left South Station. Passengers who didn’t know each other were sitting with one seat separating them and many passengers were left standing, often in close proximity to those who were seated.

Passengers were wearing masks and no one was freaking out, but it was clear people boarding the train were looking to find a place where they could socially distance and couldn’t find it.

The crowding may have been something of a fluke, since I got off at Savin Hill and waited for the next train, which appeared to be relatively empty.

A T spokesman sent an email saying “commuting on MBTA trains is safe. The trains are cleaned and disinfected daily, face coverings are required, and subway ridership remains well below pre-pandemic levels. The T closely monitors passenger volume, and service delivery personnel have the ability to make adjustments if warranted.”

The spokesman said any customer uncomfortable with the number of riders on a train may wish to consider waiting for a subsequent train. He said the T also welcomes reports (via twitter, email, or by phone) from any customers who feel a train has too many people on board.

Under the T’s COVID-19 crowding standards, which are borrowed from the World Health Organization and call for 3 feet of separation between passengers, a Red Line car is considered crowded when it has 66 passengers. Previously, a Red Line car wasn’t considered crowded until it had 161 passengers.

Meet the Author

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.

Crowding with 6-foot social distancing, which is favored by the US Centers for Disease Control, would be 21 on a Red Line car, according to an analysis by the business group A Better City.

For other transit modes, the current T standard for crowding is 20 on a 40-foot bus (it was 56 pre-COVID), 31 on a Green Line trolley (instead of 80), 62 on an Orange Line car (instead of 141), and 42 on a Blue Line car (instead of 86).