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The MBTA Won't Return To Full Service Until Final Phase Of State's Reopening

Marino Diaz Cruz wipes down the surfaces inside an MBTA bus with disinfectant after it pulled into Ashmont Station From Jackson Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Marino Diaz Cruz wipes down the surfaces inside an MBTA bus with disinfectant after it pulled into Ashmont Station From Jackson Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The MBTA will continue to run at reduced service levels, even as a range of businesses begin to reopen under new rules outlined by the Baker administration Monday.

Bus service will return more slowly than train service, and the entire system won't return to full service until the final phases of the state's reopening plan.

The T scaled back service in March due to plummeting ridership amid the coronavirus pandemic. The transit system has mostly been running on a Saturday schedule with the exception of ferry service, which was canceled, and the MBTA's door-to-door service for those with disabilities, The RIDE, which remained at full service.

Under the state's re-opening plan, MBTA service will gradually ramp up at a slower pace than businesses will reopen. At a press conference Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said this is because the state wants to ensure that public health guidelines can be followed as service is brought back.

"The most important thing that has to happen here is it has to be done safely and it has to be done in compliance with the best practice standards that are available," he said. "The T wants to get this right, and so do we."

Here's what MBTA service will look like during the state's four-phase reopening plan:

Phase 1

During phase one, which is expected to last at least three weeks, MBTA service will stay the same — the current reduced schedule that has fewer trains and buses than before the pandemic.

Phase 2

In phase two, more train service will be added on the Red, Orange and Green Lines. There will be full service on the Blue Line, which is currently undergoing track work and has had the most durable ridership of all the lines during the pandemic. There will also be additional service added on the commuter rail, including more trains during off-peak times on the Fairmont Line.

Phase 3

Starting in phase 3, full service will resume on all train lines and buses. Ferry service will also return. There is a caveat for buses and the Green Line: They will return to full service only as staffing permits. MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak has said staffing could be a challenge as more than 450 workers are on leave due to COVID-19. Additionally, there will be a modified full schedule on the commuter rail.

Phase 4

MBTA service will return to full service across the system during the final phase of the state's reopening plan. There may also be additional bus service during peak times, as the MBTA has ordered 60 new buses, though this may be depend on staffing limits as well. Those buses are expected to be delivered between September and December, the MBTA said. During phase four, the commuter rail will run with a modified full schedule.

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said Monday that the responsibility for ensuring the public transit system is safe to ride will rest not only with the MBTA, but with riders and their employers as well.

"We cannot significantly reduce the risk of transmission across the system without the cooperation of customers and the employer community," she said.

As the MBTA moves towards increasing service, the state is urging riders to avoid transit if they have symptoms of COVID-19. Masks are required on the T.

State officials are also encouraging employers to stagger work schedules and, whenever possible, to allow employees to continue working from home to reduce ridership for the MBTA, especially during the morning and evening rush hours. Transit officials have been discussing the concept of a staggered commute with business leaders in the weeks leading up to the unveiling of the reopening plan.

As transit service begins to increase, the MBTA will continue its more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of the system.

A big challenge for the T will be how to maintain social distancing on the public transit system as service increases and more riders return.

The MBTA is currently implementing some social distancing measures during the Blue Line shut down, which may offer a glimpse of how social distancing might work for the entire public transit system. During the Blue Line closure, the MBTA will run shuttles frequently — up to every minute — and limit them to 15-20 riders, and offer express and local routes.

And it appears some similar measures will be implemented system-wide as MBTA service increases. The T has already indicated that it wants to increase the frequency of buses (with the possible addition of 60 vehicles during peak times) in phase four of the reopening. And the state's plan notes that "social distancing efforts will limit effective capacity on vehicles even after full service schedules are restored."

It's unclear when phases two, three and four will begin in the state's re-opening plan.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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