T notes: Riders returning slowly to buses, subways

Flex pass coming for those who commute occasionally

RIDERS ARE SLOWLY RETURNING to the MBTA’s buses and subways, and the transit authority is preparing to add more service starting next weekend to allow social distancing at the higher passenger levels.

Steve Poftak, the T’s general manager, said bus passenger levels have risen 15 percent each week since the middle of May and subway ridership has grown 9 percent a week over the same time period. Both are still well below pre-COVID levels, with bus ridership averaging 125,000 passengers a day, or about 30 percent of what it was prior to the coronavirus. Subway ridership is currently 65,000 per day, or about 13 percent of pre-COVID levels. Commuter rail has gained only slightly, up to about 3.5 percent of its pre-COVID level.

“There is an upward trend that starts really in April and begins in earnest on May 18,” Poftak said.

With ridership slowly increasing, the T is preparing to add more bus service and return to pre-COVID service levels on the subway system this coming weekend.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager, said bus service will return to about 70 percent of the trips on a typical weekday. He said a significant number of bus trips will be added to the busiest routes and a large number of the trips will be somewhat fluid, directed to routes where passenger levels are higher than expected.

The T is also planning to roll out alerts to riders about potential crowding on nine initial bus routes (1, 15, 16, 22, 23, 31, 32, 109, and 110). The crowding indicators will be available at mbta.com, the Transit app, and on digital signage.

Under the T’s standards, a 40-foot bus is considered crowded with 20 people on board instead of the 56 pre-COVID. The T developed its crowding standards using three feet of social distancing recommended by the World Health Organization rather than the six feet recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control.

The subway lines will return to normal service levels next week assuming staffing is available. Ccommuter rail will return to 85 percent of pre-COVID levels. Ferries to Hingham and Hull will resume on weekdays at about 75 percent of pre-COVID service levels. Paratransit service is currently averaging 1,900 trips per day. Gonneville said if the number of trips rises to 2,500 trips per day, the T may require drivers to take more than one passenger per trip.

Gonneville said the Cape Flyer, which normally begins service on Memorial Day, will start up this year on June 26. The Cape Flyer runs from South Station to Hyannis with stops in Braintree, Brockton, Middleborough/Lakeville, Wareham Village, Buzzards Bay and Bourne. Tickets are $22 per person one way or $40 roundtrip.

Flex pass designed for part-time commuters

The MBTA unveiled a new commuter rail pass for employees who are now splitting their work time between their office and home.

Instead of buying a monthly pass, workers can buy a five-day flex pass – a bundle of five, one-day passes that can be used any time over a 30-day period. The pass offers a 10 percent discount off of the regular price of buying five roundtrip tickets.

The pass is being run as a pilot starting July 1 and running through September 30. The pass is available on the mTicket app.

Open meeting law complaint filed against FMCB

Joe Aiello, the chair of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, disclosed on Monday that a complaint has been filed against the board for violating the state’s open meeting law. Aiello did not say who filed the complaint or what it was about. He said he referred the matter to the T’s general counsel who is working with the attorney general’s office on it.

Control board’s fate coming down to the wire

Next Monday will be the Fiscal and Management Control Board’s last meeting, unless the Legislature agrees on the makeup and responsibilities of a replacement board.

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.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she and Gov. Charlie Baker are working the issue on Beacon Hill, but even if no agreement is reached by June 30 she noted the oversight of the T will revert to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board.

The chatter at Monday’s meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board also suggested some of the existing FMCB members will continue if the Legislature greenlights some sort of new board. Pollack said board member Brian Shortsleeve has indicated he is leaving, but she hinted other members may stay on. Sources say Monica Tibbits-Nutt and Chrystal Kornegay are the members most likely to stay on.