After being dug in on its approach for months, the MBTA now says it will push to restore cut subway and bus service "as fast as we possibly can" in the wake of substantial criticism about its use of federal funding, General Manager Steve Poftak said Monday.
With at least $845 million in aid set to arrive under the American Rescue Plan — on top of the $1.1 billion the MBTA already received in prior stimulus packages — the agency is in "a much different landscape" than when it planned and approved service cuts, Poftak told the T's board.
"We are bringing back service as fast as we possibly can on bus and subway with the goal of getting to 100% of pre-COVID service levels," Poftak said, later stressing that he does not yet have a timeline on restorations because of staffing and training challenges.
The agency is planning to relaunch several suspended bus lines in the summer, and will also use overtime and "run-as-directed" flexible vehicles to add capacity where needed, Poftak said.
Poftak also floated a proposal to resume weekend commuter rail service, which the T eliminated on seven lines in January, likely in mid-May. A new commuter rail schedule offering less trip frequency at peak hours and more frequency at off-peak hours will begin on April 5.
On the ferry system, Poftak suggested giving the T "discretion" to resume running the Charlestown route and increasing frequency on the Hingham/Hull route.
Facing more than a year of sharply reduced ridership and fare revenue, the MBTA implemented service cuts in January and in March. The changes slashed trip frequency by 20% on the Red, Orange and Green Lines and non-essential buses and by 5% on the Blue Line and essential buses, closed 20 bus routes, and suspended some weekend commuter rail service and ferry lines.
Lawmakers, advocates and riders have criticized the MBTA for implementing the cuts while receiving nearly $2 billion in federal emergency funding. Last week, an MBTA spokesman said the agency would budget for 100% of pre-pandemic service levels in its fiscal year 2022 spending plan.