Red Line ridership hasn’t recovered

Customer satisfaction with T remains near all-time low

RED LINE RIDERSHIP has not fully recovered from the hit it took after a June 11 derailment, and the MBTA’s regular monthly survey of users suggests satisfaction with the agency remains near an all-time low.

The T late Monday released data indicating Red Line ridership, which had been averaging more than 200,000 on weekdays the previous year and in the months leading up to the derailment, has failed to rebound.

The T earlier released data indicating Red Line ridership was off 10.5 percent from 2018 levels in the first week after the derailment and then 5.9 percent off in the second week. The T on Monday released additional data for July and the first three weeks of August that show the number of people tapping in to ride the Red Line have bounced around a bit without ever returning to the 200,000 level.

Now even the busiest days don’t crack that pre-crash average of around 200,000 tap-ins. Since the crash through last Friday, the most Red Line tap-ins was 198,628, which occurred on Tuesday, July 16.

Excluding the Independence Day holiday and the Friday that followed it, from July 1 through last Friday weekday tap-ins on the Red Line have averaged 186,813. The busiest week since the fare hike was the third week of July when the daily average was 190,801. The week before the derailment, the average was 206,565.

Even with the diminished numbers, post-derailment, more people tap-in to ride the Red Line on an average weekday than the total populations of any New England city except Boston.

It’s unclear how much of the downturn in ridership is due to the derailment and the signal restrictions that have slowed service on the line, and how much is due to a fare increase that took effect July 1.

According to the T’s own monthly survey of riders, satisfaction with the transit agency remained at near-record lows in July.

The rating of 2.53 – on a scale of 1 to 5 – was only a hair above June’s record low of 2.5 for the survey data, which dates back to February 2016.

Customer satisfaction plummeted nearly 23 percent in June after a 50-year-old Red Line train derailed and crashed into signal systems that controlled miles of track in Dorchester and South Boston. There is little mystery why the T has taken such a reputational hit since then, as manual signaling and track-switching have delayed trips on the busiest subway line, fares went up or stayed flat July 1, and T officials project service won’t be fully restored until October.

Any rider can sign up to take the T’s survey, and 1,853 respondents registered their opinion with the agency last month. While the bottom-line number for July was relatively consistent with June, there were a couple minor fluctuations in the month-to-month data, which looked slightly rosier in July. The percentage of people “extremely dissatisfied” with the MBTA overall dropped from nearly one in five, or 19 percent, in June to 16 percent in July.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

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.

Reliability, a measure that uses various metrics to gauge on-time performance on different transit modes, was a mixed bag from June to July. Subway reliability actually dropped slightly in that period while bus and paratransit reliability improved somewhat and commuter rail reliability stayed relatively stable. On June 11, the day of the derailment, subway reliability was at a paltry 60 percent, according to the T. In the past 30 days it has averaged 86 percent, which is slightly worse than the average reliability for the months preceding the derailment.

One big upcoming test for the MBTA will be how the transit agency handles the influx of college students this fall. At the direction of Gov. Charlie Baker, the T plans to more aggressively shutdown subway service on weekends to more swiftly complete repair projects. That plan could lead to some short-term hassles but lasting improvements.

There has been good news and bad on the MBTA since the survey was taken last month. Last week customers were able to ride the first new Orange Line train in three decades, and the T also reopened a refurbished Wollaston Station, bringing the entire Red Line into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Meanwhile, a Green Line trolley derailed on Aug. 7 leading to more morning commute headaches.