Subway ridership rebounding, but still lackluster
Survey of T riders finds 56% believe system is not reliable
RED LINE RIDERSHIP appears to be rebounding, with the number of average weekday trips now trending back to the same level it was prior to the June 11 derailment at the JFK/UMass Station. Customer satisfaction with the T is also starting to rebound, although it’s still not very high and remains well below historic levels.
Despite the short-term gains, the T’s subway system remains mired in a ridership slump. T data indicate the number of trips on the subway system has been stagnant or declining even as the local economy has surged. The T is now spending billions of dollars to upgrade service and capacity on the Red and Orange lines on the assumption that a better, more reliable subway system will attract a lot more riders. Right now, however, a T survey of its own riders indicates 56 percent believe the system is not reliable.
The Red Line, the T’s busiest subway line, provides a good case study. The derailment at the JFK/UMass station in June and the three-month effort to restore service to previous levels took its toll on ridership and customer confidence. Red Line weekday trips, which averaged 246,000 in May, steadily declined after the derailment, falling to as low as 222,000 in August. In September, the latest month available, the number of trips was back to 246,000.
While the numbers are rebounding, they are still low, particularly for a line that serves some of the area’s strongest employment centers at a time when the economy is strong. In September 2018, the number of average weekday trips on the Red Line was 256,000, 4 percent higher than it was a year later.
For the subway system as a whole, the number of average weekday trips on the Blue, Green, Orange, and Red Lines was 697,000 in September 2019, nearly 5 percent lower than a year before.
A monthly survey of riders by the MBTA suggests the agency has a lot of work to do. The latest survey, in November, indicated riders gave the T an overall rating of 2.78 out of a possible 5. That number is up from June, when it plummeted to 2.5, the lowest level since the monthly survey began in June 2016.
But it’s clear attitudes toward the T have not recovered since the June derailment. The overall rating has hovered between 2.5 and 2.91 since June, after being above 3 every month since the survey began more than 3 ½ years ago.
The November survey indicated 45 percent of T riders were somewhat, very, or extremely satisfied with the T, while 44 percent said they were somewhat, very, or extremely dissatisfied. Eleven percent were extremely dissatisfied, while only 3 percent were extremely satisfied.
Fifty-six percent of those surveyed disagreed when asked whether the T provides reliable public transportation services, with 19 percent strongly disagreeing. Thirty-five percent agreed that the T provides reliable public transportation services, but that support was fairly tepid with 3 percent strongly agreeing, 12 percent agreeing, and 20 percent slightly agreeing.Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, issued a statement highlighting efforts to boost capital improvements. “With the overarching goals of increasing ridership by delivering safe and reliable service, the Authority has laid out an aggressive capital plan for investing billions of dollars in system-wide improvements, including $2.06 billion for the Red and Orange Lines. The improvement program includes signal and power upgrades, which will lead to faster, more comfortable trips as well as less crowding on platforms and in stations,” Pesaturo said.
He said the upgrades will reduce the time between train arrivals to 3 minutes on the Red Line and 4.5 minutes on the Orange Line, which will increase capacity by 65,000 riders on the Red Line and 30,000 on the Orange Line.