Poll: Residents say MBTA is unsafe and service isn't great either

An MBTA Blue Line train at the Orient Heights Station. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
An MBTA Blue Line train at the Orient Heights Station. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Most Greater Boston residents feel unsafe riding the MBTA and give the transit system's service low ratings, according to a new poll released Wednesday by the MassINC Polling Group.

The poll, which was sponsored by the Barr Foundation, found 70% of current and former riders have felt unsafe at least once or twice due to the condition of buses, trains, stations and other infrastructure. A similar amount of respondents said they felt unsafe for other reasons, which could relate to personal safety or crime, according to MassINC senior research director Rich Parr.

"The safety issue is kind of a baseline thing that the T needs to provide to people," Parr said. "They need to think that they're going to be safe when they're riding the T."

The beleaguered transit system has suffered from years of disinvestment and deferred maintenance. That has led to a number of safety issues, including deteriorated tracks that forced the agency to implement slow zones across the system this year.

Concerns about safety seem to factor into the overall ratings of MBTA services. According to the poll, only 28% of respondents rate the quality of the subway and trolley service as at least good. And 35% said the quality of bus service was at least good. Meanwhile, the commuter rail had more positive ratings — 42% rate it as good to excellent.

MassINC Polling Group surveyed 1,000 residents in the 175 communities served by the MBTA. Those surveyed included regular riders, former riders and non-riders. The survey was conducted in mid-August. That's before the T announced a partial Red Line shutdown this fall and before the agency released a safety report that found organizational failures led to the slow zones and other subway issues this year.

As the MBTA continues its work to improve service, people are pretty divided about the future of the transit system. The MassINC poll found 45% of respondents think the T will be better in 10 years. However, roughly as many people — 46% — think the T will stay the same or get worse.

"When you're starting from a relatively low place, being the same is not necessarily a great place to be," Parr said.

The poll also noted that ridership on the system hasn't returned to pre-pandemic levels. When respondents were asked why they are riding the T less, the top reasons cited were: working from home, choosing another mode of transportation, and concerns about the speed and reliability of service.

Parr said some of these things the T can't control and will likely make it hard for the agency to get back to pre-pandemic ridership numbers.

But there were two main things respondents said would get them to ride the T more: Free rides and more reliable service. More than half of residents said this would make them more likely to use the transit system.

"It looks like the opportunity for the T is really among getting their current riders to ride more often and to get some of these former riders to come back," Parr said.


Zeninjor Enwemeka 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.



More from WBUR

Listen Live