September 18, 2021

Deep MBTA Service Cuts Proposed: Here’s What Could Be Lost

MASSACHUSETTS — MBTA officials proposed deep service cuts that would stretch across the transit agency’s entire system, impacting all modes of public transportation amid dwindling ridership and a widening budget gap.

The proposed cuts ranged from $65 million to $255 million. It’s been known the beleaguered transit agency would have to take drastic measures, but the breadth of impact was only made known during Monday’s Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting.

Significant service cuts, line eliminations and station closures were proposed for some low-ridership bus routes and commuter rail lines, as well as the Hingham/Hull ferry, according to a presentation made at the meeting. No cuts are final and officials are still working to identify exactly which lines would be impacted. A vote is expected in December and changes would take place in mid-2021.

“Some of these decisions we are making will require a significant amount of time to put into operation, to put into flight, so that we can realize some of the savings in next year’s budget,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said. “I think it’s important that we do this with a pretty deliberate tempo so we hit our Dec. 7 date to make many of these — what I fully acknowledge are really difficult decisions.”

The proposals would shape the way many get to work and travel across the region. The MBTA have said they want to keep service on busy routes where there’s a high need, including communities of color and low-income areas.

Nearly all subway lines with the exception of some Green Line branches were deemed both to have high ridership and be critical to transit needs, as were the Mattapan Line, most bus routes, the Charlestown Ferry and the Fairmount commuter rail line.

But most commuter rail lines were looking at the possibility of no more weekend service or weekday service after 9 a.m., as well as reduced frequency and even station closures. The lines deemed low-ridership and less critical for transit needs included Fitchburg, Framingham/Worcester, Franklin, Greenbush, Haverhill, Kingston/Plymouth, Lowell and Needham lines.

The only ones deemed either high-usage or transit-critical were the Fairmount, Newburyport/Rockport, Middleborough/Lakeville and Providence/Stoughton lines.

Sixty-five percent of bus route hours were deemed high-ridership and transit-critical, with 8 percent failing to register as either. Officials proposed reducing service for and cutting non-essential routes altogether, highlighting the 553, 554, 351 and 52 routes.

The Hingham/Hull ferry could also be in its final days. The route accounted for 70 percent of all ferry service hours in 2019, but was deemed both low-ridership and less transit-critical. The Charlestown ferry, which accounted for the other 30 percent of ferry service hours last year, was deemed both high-ridership and high transit-critical.

The MBTA said it could take years to bring back lost service.

“Changes will be permanent and we will build back a network that better serves the region,” a presentation read.

The MBTA has been financially devastated by the pandemic, with fewer people going to work and an unwillingness to share a train with people who could be carrying the highly contagious coronavirus. Subway ridership is up to about 25 percent of pre-pandemic levels, commuter rail ridership is at about 12 percent and bus riderships is at about 41 percent.

The MBTA also said Monday there would be a year-plus delay for its new fleets of Orange and Red Line trains. The Orange Line trains aren’t expected to be in service until at least April 2023, while Red Line trains are pushed back until at least September 2024.

There was some good news last week when the agency said its Green Line Extension is on track to be finished by the end of 2021.

Materials from State House News Service contributed to this report

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