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MBTA Reduces Commuter Rail And Ferry Services

An MBTA Commuter Rail train on the Haverhill line travels through Andover. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An MBTA Commuter Rail train on the Haverhill line travels through Andover. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As ridership continues to dip during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has begun its service reductions for both the Commuter Rail and ferry rides.

The change removes weekend service from seven Commuter Rail lines and the Charlestown ferry service has been suspended indefinitely, according to a statement from the MBTA. Direct ferry service from Hingham to Rowe's Wharf has also been ceased. The changes went into effect as of Saturday, January 23.

Weekend Commuter Rail service will now only be available on the Newburyport/Rockport, Framingham/Worcester, Fairmount, Providence, and Middleborough lines.

"These lines experienced more ridership gains over the last several months compared to other lines and serve transit-critical communities," the MBTA said in the statement. "Ridership has remained low during the pandemic with approximately 8% of regular weekday ridership in the fall of 2020 compared to fall 2019."

Weekend service for the following commuter lines has been cut: Haverhill, Lowell, Fitchburg, Needham, Franklin, Kingston/Plymouth, and Greenbush.

The agency is expected to receive at least $250 million in federal funding under the latest COVID-19 stimulus package. MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said up to $17 million of the funding will go toward bumping service back up on specific bus routes and evening commuter rail service.

Despite the funding, the reduction of services still went into effect.

Chair of the Scituate Board of Selectmen, Karen Canfield, opposes the move to reduce service and says public transportation is not just about the bottom line.

"It's about our nurses being able to get to work and our students to get to school and for folks to get to doctors appointments," said Canfield, whose commuter line — Greenbush — has been affected by the cuts. "And it's also the engine that drives a lot of the decisions we have made over the last decade...we all need to hold on until we can get to a recovery. To eliminate these services strictly on financial basis doesn't make sense."

The agency cites ridership as a concern and said they are attempting to adjust the schedules accordingly.

The MBTA said, "Commuter Rail ridership is approximately 10% of its pre-COVID levels with ferry ridership at approximately 12% of its pre-COVID levels." With the T's Forging Ahead initiative, the agency stated they are trying to preserve access to public transportation to match their existing ridership.

It is not known when the services will be restored, however, the Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) is expected to assess service needs again by March 15, the MBTA said.

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