The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has set its 2021 commuter rail schedules that focus on preserving access, matching service to ridership and passenger needs and providing more operational flexibility.
Responding to feedback from riders and communities, weeknight service after 9:00 p.m. will largely remain, particularly where ridership has returned more than in other areas and on transit-critical lines.
“Travel patterns have changed and will continue to evolve. As we look to the spring, we can be even more efficient with taxpayer dollars while ridership is low and use this time to shift toward a schedule that could be more attractive to future riders. The intent is to pilot a service model closer to regional rail,” said Steve Poftak, general manager, MBTA. “The MBTA Railroad Operations team and Keolis have developed some exciting plans that can achieve both objectives.”
In 2020, the MBTA initiated plans to match service with lower ridership levels resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring access for essential workers and transit-critical communities. Ridership and community feedback was – and continues to be – integral to this process, which included virtual forums and other mechanisms to solicit the public’s input. Weekend service was partially reduced on Jan. 23.
For the spring 2021 schedule, MBTA leadership determined that weeknight service after 9:00 p.m. will continue with only very late or extremely low ridership trains eliminated. MBTA leadership also set a direction for weekday service, effective in the spring. The MBTA and Keolis, the MBTA’s operating partner for commuter rail, will advance the service toward a regional rail approach, which provides passengers with more flexible options and opportunities to add trains more easily in the future.
“We’re pleased to help the MBTA strike a balance between the need for greater cost efficiencies, while still providing an attractive service for potential riders,” said David Scorey, CEO and general manager of Keolis. “This shift recognizes that fewer and fewer people commute nine to five. We plan to offer a schedule that can attract an entirely new type of rider and offers flexibility to add service when the time is right.”
Specifically, the spring 2021 schedule would provide fewer trains during the morning and evening peaks, and more trains during the middle of day to provide more regularly scheduled trains. Compared to the fall 2019 pre-COVID schedule, this direction will have approximately 11 percent fewer weekly trains, while improving rolling stock utilization by approximately 18 percent. Shifting in part to this model on MBTA Commuter Rail is possible due to the low ridership, and it is beneficial for the MBTA because it provides financial efficiencies, as well as increased flexibility to increase service in the future when appropriate.