The East Braintree/Weymouth Landing stop of the MBTA Greenbush commuter rail line on Wednesday December 16, 2020. With MBTA cuts in place the station will soon see no weekend service.
Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger (TNS)
BOSTON — The MBTA may not run weekend South Shore commuter rail trains or ferries again for months.
Weekend service on both modes of transportation was axed at the beginning of the year as part of a slate of cuts by the MBTA in response to low ridership amid the pandemic and resulting fare loss.
In a meeting on Monday, MBTA officials presented possible service options to the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board for the summer and fall that included keeping cuts implemented to ferry service in January and maintaining commuter rail schedules set to take effect April 5.
The spring commuter rail schedules have no weekend service for the Greenbush or Kingston/Plymouth lines, continuing a lack of weekend trains implemented in January. The Middleboro/Lakeville line, which runs through stops in Quincy, Braintree, Randolph and Brockton, will continue to have weekend trains in the spring.
Duxbury MBTA Advisory Board member Richard Prone in a recorded message during the meeting criticized the MBTA for continuing weekend commuter rail cuts into the spring.
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“I can’t understand why the MBTA has decided to ostracize the South Shore once again,” Prone said.
Prone said getting from more southern towns, closer to Cape Cod, to the Red Line in Braintree can very difficult especially with increased traffic on Route 3 in the summer.
The T’s plans call for adding back some frequency to buses and subway lines in the spring and fall, depending on ridership levels.
All MBTA services saw a reduction in the cuts approved by the board in December.
How much the T will be able to anticipate an increase in ridership, however, remains to be seen.
T officials expect diminished ridership for months, but Jeffrey Gonneville, the MBTA’s deputy general manager, said schedule makers will only have a few weeks before having to print up and set spring schedules. Gonneville said there will be measures in place to help regulate overcrowding and they will make some assumptions about summer ridership.
Monica Tibbits-Nutt, the board’s vice chair, said that she was concerned that the T wouldn’t actually be able to adapt much if there was an influx in riders later in spring, given the short observation window and increasing vaccination levels.
Currently, with cuts in place, the commuter rail has had about 11 percent of ridership compared to pre-pandemic levels. The ferry, which is only running weekday service geared toward commuters, is seeing about nine percent, according to the MBTA. Buses and subways are seeing 43 percent and just under 30 percent respectively.
Overall, the T this spring will run about 90 percent as much service as before the pandemic with ridership hovering around 30 percent its prior levels.
The MBTA also outlined a strained financial outlook over the next few years, despite getting more than $1 billion in federal pandemic help.
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While one-time money, service cuts and boosted sales tax revenues look to put the MBTA in the black for the fiscal 2022 budget, projections crafted by the T for the coming years forecast that the transit agency will face budget gaps of hundreds of millions of dollars for at least four straight years. The shortfalls are driven both by structural deficits and doubts about how quickly fare revenue will rebound from COVID-era lows.
Depending on the arc ridership takes as Massachusetts moves into a vaccinated post-pandemic reality, annual shortfalls from fiscal 2023 to fiscal 2026 all land between $201 million and $495 million in the T’s latest five-year presentation.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.
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Joe Difazio can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jldifazio.
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: MBTA may not run weekend commuter rail trains or ferries on the South Shore for months
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