T ridership keeps falling but at slower rate

One bright spot: Commuter rail fare revenue up $7.5m in FY18

THE MBTA SAID ON MONDAY that its ridership is continuing to decline, but the falloff is occurring at a much slower pace than it had been.

T officials offered no explanation for the moderating decline but said the MBTA’s experience is similar to what is occurring at most transit agencies across the country. The officials said they were doing more research to find out why riders are continuing to desert the T at a time when the local economy is booming.

Speculation has focused on a host of possible factors, including the rapid growth of ride-hailing apps and an increase in people who are choosing to buy cars instead of ride buses. Concern over the ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft has dominated the discussion in other parts of the country. New York City officials last week placed a one-year moratorium on the licensing of new ride-hailing vehicles and Chicago has upped fees on Uber and Lyft rides and steered the money to the Chicago Transit Authority.

Using a 12-month rolling average, subway ridership on the T was off 0.5 percent on weekdays comparing June 2018 to June 2017, but down 2.9 percent relative to June 2016. Saturday subway ridership was off 2 percent compared to June 2017 and 8 percent relative to June 2016. Sunday ridership was actually up 0.2 percent compared to June 2017 and down 5.1 percent compared to June 2016.

Weekday bus ridership was off 2 percent in June 2018 compared to June 2017, and down 5.3 percent versus 2016. Saturday bus ridership was off 1.1 percent compared to June 2017, and 9.8 percent compared to June 2016. Sunday bus ridership was off 2.3 percent compared to June 2017 and 7.6 percent compared to June 2016.

Green Line ridership is difficult for the T to gauge, so officials used as a barometer tap-ins at 10 gated stations, not including Park and Government Center, where access to subway lines is provided. Traffic at the 10 stations was off 13.3 percent comparing June 2018 to January 2014 and off 2.2 percent comparing June 2018 to June 2016.

T ridership numbers are always a bit shaky because the system is not designed to track where individual riders come and go. (A new fare system in development will change that.) With commuter rail, the situation is even more complicated because officials rely on hand counts from busy conductors, although automated passenger counters are being installed.

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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.

One area where firm numbers do exist is on fare revenue. According to the T, commuter rail fare revenue increased 25 percent between fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2018, which ended June 30. In fiscal 2018 alone, commuter rail fare revenue increased $7.5 million, while fare revenue from all other modes of travel (buses and subways) decreased $5.5 million. As a result, fare revenue increased by $2 million, or 0.3 percent, for the T as a whole in fiscal 2018.

“What we’re seeing is a decline in ridership,” said Mike Abramo, the T’s chief administrator, referring to the decline in subway and bus revenue. He said it’s unclear whether commuter rail fare revenue is going up because more people are riding the trains or whether the T is doing a better job of collecting the fares that are owed.