Radio Boston Radio Boston

Support the news

MBTA Head Steve Poftak: Ridership Down 70%-80% Amid Coronavirus Pandemic09:56
Download

Play
The MBTA’s Fradwin Suarez wipes down the steering wheel of the bus overnight at the Charlestown bus garage. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The MBTA’s Fradwin Suarez wipes down the steering wheel of the bus overnight at the Charlestown bus garage. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The T is reducing service and increasing vehicle cleaning in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

At the same time, ridership is plummeting as more people stay home.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak tells Radio Boston that while it's still "early days," the pandemic will certainly have a "large fiscal impact."

"We collect a little under $700 million a year in fares. Our ridership is down, depending on the mode you look at, 70% to 80%," Poftak says. "So it's obviously going to have an impact ... No one can say with surety the duration that we're going be doing this."

The T is now disinfecting vehicles and stations daily, but aims to up vehicle cleaning to twice a day "by the end of the week, if not early next week," Poftak says.

Interview Highlights

On whether the MBTA will need to ask for a federal bail-out

"It is something we're going need to sit back and assess. And, you know, I do think there is going to have to be some level of assistance. I also think given the societal impact of this, there's going to be plenty of other entities that are going to need assistance as well."

On efforts to keep the T clean

"We are disinfecting every car, every vehicle. So every bus, every train car, every paratransit vehicle, we are disinfecting it every 24 hours. We are now ramping up --we're not quite there yet, but we hope to be there by the end of the week, if not early next week — a midday cleaning of vehicles.

"And we're also cleaning what we're calling contact points. So we're not cleaning the whole station every four hours, but we're cleaning the places where people touch: handrails, escalator rails, the fare machines ... so we are trying to disinfect the system as best we can. And I think, you know, we are doing it at a tempo that is equivalent to or better than any other transit system in the country."

"We're not cleaning the whole station every four hours, but we're cleaning the places where people touch: handrails, escalator rails, the fare machines ... so we are trying to disinfect the system as best we can."

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak

On whether the T can continue its long-term investments and repairs

"We are attempting to keep our capital program on track. I think we're always going to prioritize safety. Also, to support the capital program, we have to use the same folks who are maintaining the system, and, you know, at some point we're going to run out of resources. We're going to have those folks solely prioritized. So, you know, we're hopeful that we can get through this and continue the aggressive capital campaign. But obviously, we're going to prioritize safety and we're going to prioritize service as well. So, it remains to be seen how long we'll be in this mode."

On his biggest worries moving forward

"I think the top worry is ensuring that we've got the workforce to run the system and run it reliably. And part of dropping the service level down is that this is the level of service we believe that we can run reliably for a significant portion of time.

"You know, this is obviously a stressful time for everyone. Everyone not only is juggling whatever they're trying to do professionally, but also it's been very stressful for families, families with children.

"I've been incredibly gratified and incredibly thankful for the response of the workforce. You know, the folks out there on the frontlines driving the buses and operating the trains have really responded. I think they are the ones who are owed an awful lot of credit."

This article was originally published on March 19, 2020.

This segment aired on March 19, 2020.

Related:

Tiziana Dearing Twitter Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.

More…

Walter Wuthmann Twitter Associate Producer
Walter Wuthmann is an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news