BOSTON — The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has decided to maintain late-night commuter rail service on weekdays, and is planning a new round of schedule changes this spring that will be “closer to regional rail,” according to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak.
The Boston Globe reports MBTA officials told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that, instead of ending service after 9 p.m., commuter service will continue until about 11 p.m. to maintain service for “key workers and transit-critical populations.” While only a small number of people use the late-night service — an estimated 535 passengers — they represent more than 18% of pre-pandemic ridership, while overall commuter ridership is down almost 90 percent. CommonWealth Magazine reports that this will require passengers on three lines — the Needham, Newburyport, and Kingston — to change trains to reach their final destination on the night’s final train.
Meanwhile, the agency is in the process of preparing new spring commuter rail schedules as part of its efforts to respond to ridership changes triggered by the pandemic. While new schedules have not been finalized, WCVB-TV reports plans are for schedules with service at regular intervals in both directions throughout the day, as opposed to concentrating trips during the morning and evening peaks. Contract operator Keolis says the new schedule will mean 11% fewer trains per week, compared to pre-pandemic levels, while increasing equipment utilization by 18%, and will provide “increased flexibility to increase service in the future when appropriate.”
Fiscal and Management Control Board chairman Joseph Aiello said the new schedule reflects the new reality of post-pandemic ridership, and that the agency should consider doing away with the term “commuter rail,” because the system will be designed for more than commuting to work.