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MBTA Control Board Votes To Scale Back Bus, Train And Ferry Service05:56
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An MBTA Green Line train leaving Science Park Station en route to Lechmere. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An MBTA Green Line train leaving Science Park Station en route to Lechmere. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The MBTA will scale back service on buses, trains and ferries in the new year.

The T's Fiscal Management and Control Board voted 3-2 Monday to approve a series of service cuts that will lead to less frequent trains and buses as well as the elimination of most ferry service.

The approved service cuts are not as drastic as what was originally proposed in November. The T previously suggested halting all ferry service, cutting 25 bus routes, ending some late-night and weekend services, and closing six commuter rail stations. But the transit agency faced strong opposition from riders, and criticism from transit advocates, elected officials, union leaders and other groups. Many said the cuts would hurt essential workers and riders who rely on the system. And a recent MassINC poll of Massachusetts residents found 64% opposed the scope of the originally proposed cuts.

MBTA staff said they took all of the public feedback into account and modified its proposed cuts. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she believes the service changes still offer a good amount of service.

"I do not see what the T is proposing as anywhere close to a doomsday scenario," Pollack said. "This is a service adjustment, which is providing more than adequate service for the number of riders we have and expect to have for the remainder of the current fiscal year."

Here's a look at the approved service changes on the MBTA.

Buses:

  • Buses will continue to run after midnight.
  • Service will be suspended on 20 routes, while 16 routes will be consolidated and four will be shortened (see page 40 for more details):.
  • In Malden and Melrose, peak service will continue on bus route 131, and routes 136 and 137 will be combined.
  • Route 230 will continue to operate between Braintree and Quincy Center
  • Some service will continue on routes 714 and 716 in Hull and Canton.
  • There will be some service on route 43 in Roxbury and the South End.

Subway:

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  • Trains will continue to operate after midnight.
  • The E branch of the Green Line will continue to operate to Heath Street and serve all stops.
  • Train frequency will be reduced by 5% on the Blue Line and 20% on the Green, Orange and Red lines. Right now the T aims to have 4 and a half minutes in between trains on the Red Line during peak hours. A 20% reduction in frequency would results in up to 5 and a half minutes between trains according to MBTA general manager Steve Poftak.

Commuter Rail:

  • There will be less frequent service on the commuter rail. And weekday service hours may be adjusted.
  • There will be weekend service on some commuter rail lines — Providence, Worcester, Middleboro, Newburyport/Rockport and Fairmount, which have been deemed to be "transit critical" or heavily used by essential workers and/or have higher ridership. These lines represents two-thirds of all weekend ridership, according to the MBTA.
  • Five commuter rail stations will be closed — Plimptonville, Prides Crossing, Silver Hill, Hastings, Plymouth. (The T no longer plans to close the Cedar Park stop on the Haverhill line.)

Ferries:

  • There will be some service on the Hingham/Hull weekday ferry. Service may be limited to peak/commuter hours and the T is still determining what the exact schedule will be and whether or not all Boston stops will be served.
  • The Charlestown ferry and Hingham direct service will be suspended.

The RIDE:

  • The scheduling windows on the T's paratransit service will be adjusted from 30 minutes to 40 minutes.
  • The hours of operation on The RIDES' premium service will match the new commuter rail schedule.
  • Rates will be adjusted from ADA to Premium based on changes to T's fixed routes.

The service changes are part of the MBTA's efforts to close an estimated budget gap of up to $584 million for fiscal year 2022, which starts July 1, 2021. It's worth noting that T's own advisory board recently issued a report that said the transit agency overestimated its budget deficit and the cuts (as originally proposed) weren't necessary.

Poftak said Monday the transit agency doesn't have a final estimate of the savings from the modified service cuts, but it's expected to be less than the $92-95 million estimated under the original service change proposal.

It's also unclear, how jobs will be impacted at the T due to the new service changes.

A report from the labor union-backed Public Transit Public Good coalition previously estimated that more than 800 jobs would be lost due to the cuts — the largest portion would be drivers and operators of the T's trains and buses, which would disproportionately impact people of color who make up 60% of operators.

Poftak said the transit agency is in discussions with its labor unions over how the T will manage lower service levels and what that will mean for jobs.

"There is the potential that this will result in job loss," Poftak said. "But that is an ongoing discussion."

The T plans to implement most of the service changes approved Monday between January and March. The transit agency plans to put off some service decisions until it starts its budget process for fiscal year 2022 (which starts July 2021) in February. This means there could be more cuts or some service restored. Poftak said the MBTA will review all of its decisions in February when it expects to have more information about ridership trends and the potential for federal funding.

This segment aired on December 15, 2020.

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

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