T notes: Blue Line an outlier on ridership

Board to discuss fare proposal next week

WHILE WEEKDAY RIDERSHIP has generally dropped on MBTA subway and bus routes, boardings on the Blue Line have been on an upswing, according to data presented by the T’s research director, Laurel Paget-Seekins, at Monday’s meeting of the agency’s Fiscal and Management Control Board.

Joe Aiello, the board chairman, said it would be “interesting to know what evidence we have about what’s driving” the upsurge in Blue Line boardings, and said the overall drop-off is “troubling.”

“There’s a lot going on in the system that’s affecting ridership,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “To some extent we are seeing fewer people using the system off-peak because weekends and evenings are when we are doing a lot of work on it and if you have an alternative to being on a bus diversion you tend to use that alternative.”

While the Pioneer Institute recently identified an 11 percent drop in commuter rail ridership between 2012 and 2018, citing the National Transit Database, the MBTA’s passenger count data indicates ridership actually increased 21 percent over that same period.

T wants municipalities to play ball on bus improvements

Some in leadership at the MBTA are frustrated at the pace of cooperation by municipalities on making improvements to bus service.

Cities and towns have a big role to play as the T seeks transit-enhancing measures such as bus lanes and traffic signal prioritization, because local government generally controls the streets.

“We’ve got to find a better way to push municipalities on this,” said control board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the T has become more direct in its discussions with local officials.

“The deal is we’ll show up with paint and funding on the capital side,” Poftak said of the T’s eagerness to lay down bus lanes. “We need them to take a leading role, a primary role, on operations and maintenance. I share your frustration. The MBTA cannot do this alone.”

Storm surge barriers for Aquarium Station

MBTA personnel recently practiced rolling out a flood barrier around the entrance to Aquarium Station on the Blue Line and Poftak said a permanent solution for the station is supposed to arrive by June.

The subway stop is located right next to some Boston Harbor wharves, and flooding incidents in January and March of 2018 were an impetus for the new barriers.

T officials practiced inflating the temporary device, known as a tiger dam, around the station’s head-house, on Saturday February 16.

Board to discuss fare proposal next week

The control board on March 4 plans to discuss recently proposed fare increases, which would average 6.3 percent and have generated some pushback from community leaders.

Although the issue wasn’t up for discussion by the board on Monday, Poftak penned an op-ed that ran in the Boston Globe on Monday defending the proposal.

“State taxpayer contributions and local assessments increase 2 to 3 percent each year. And highway users — not taxpayers — pay for almost all of MassDOT’s highway operating costs,” Poftak wrote. “It is therefore both fair and reasonable to ask MBTA riders to pay their share of a modest increase aligned with inflation.”

Blue Hill Ave. station opens

Commuter rail trains started servicing passengers on Monday at the new Blue Hill Avenue Station in Dorchester, and there will be a more formal event to recognize the new transit stop next week, Poftak said.

The 800-foot station with a tall platform for easier boarding is the ninth station on the Fairmount Line, which is the only line in the system to run exclusively in Boston.

Power system repairs

MBTA workers are making “spot by spot” repairs to avoid a power outage similar to a February 8 failure of an AC cable that left commuters stranded during rush hour, according to Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville.

A collapsed duct bank, which is basically a passageway for cables, can lead to the type of damage that caused the frustrating incident, Gonneville said. As of this weekend, the T had replaced 150 feet of collapsed duct bank, he said.

GLX bridge closures

Commuters in Somerville will need to take detours to make room for work on the Green Line Extension in the next few years.

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.

Work on the trolley projects, which are extending the Green Line to Somerville and Medford, will shut down the Broadway Bridge in Ball Square for a full year starting this March, and close the Medford Street Bridge in Gilman Square from this June until next spring. The replacement of a railroad bridge on Washington Street will close off an underpass from this April until next fall, when it opens for four months before another five-month closure, according to the project page.

Motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists will all need to make detours around the stretches of roadway during the construction, according to the T.