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T Board Approves Scaled-Back Package of Transit Service Cuts

8:00 PM EST on December 14, 2020

An outbound MBTA Fairmount Line train stops at the Talbot Avenue station in December 2012. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Pi.1415926535, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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At its Monday meeting, the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board board approved a revised, less severe package of transit service cuts on Monday afternoon that walked back some earlier cost-cutting proposals but will still impose significant reductions in transit service early next year.

The revised proposal, which was released on Monday afternoon, would keep more of the T's routes running in 2021 than an earlier proposition, and keeps more services running on nights and weekends. However, riders will face longer waits between buses and trains, and 20 bus routes are still slated for elimination.

A summary of the service changes approved today, and how the service cuts have evolved since November:

    • You'll still be able to take a Green Line train to Heath Street, thanks to a large outcry from riders of the E Branch and their elected officials. However, the T will reduce the number of trips on most rapid transit lines by 20 percent. The Blue Line, which has retained higher levels of ridership during the pandemic, will get a 5 percent cut in service.
    • 20 low-ridership bus routes will be suspended in 2021. 79 bus routes that have retained relatively high ridership during the pandemic will see a 5 percent cut in their number of daily trips, and the remaining bus routes will see a 20 percent reduction in service.
    • Acknowledging the importance of late-night trips to service workers, the T has abandoned its earlier proposal to end bus and subway services at midnight.
    • In response to a large outcry from South Shore commuters, the T will continue to run its longest ferry route, to Hingham and Hull, albeit with a reduced schedule. Other ferry routes will be suspended.
    • An earlier proposal to halt all commuter rail service on weekends has been modified to preserve limited weekend service on 5 higher-ridership lines (Providence, Worcester, Middleboro, Newburyport/Rockport, and Fairmount). The commuter rail system will still run fewer daily trains; however, the FMCB amended an MBTA staff proposal to close the commuter rail system at 9 p.m. each weekday, and instead directed the T to "adjust weekday schedules to optimize span of service."

"We're glad to see them walk back some of the cuts, but we still believe these cuts are rushed and unnecessary," TransitMatters executive director Jarred Johnson in an email to Streetsblog Monday afternoon. "We'll continue to fight these cuts as disastrous climate, equity, and housing policy. We'll also call attention to the need for more revenue from the Legislature."

The cuts to the ferry and commuter rail systems would take effect in January, while revised schedules for buses and rapid transit routes wouldn't take effect until March or April.

Discussion of another round of service changes could occur in March, when the FMCB begins its regular discussion of the next annual budget.

The MBTA's budget planners estimate that it will face a budget deficit of about $600 million in fiscal year 2022, which begins next July. The T's leaders stressed that the agency wants to start reducing its operating shortfall as soon as possible, so that the agency won't have empty pockets when riders begin to return to transit next year.

"One of the themes we heard (in public comment regarding the service cuts) was a desire to preserve span of service and access to service over frequency, with the idea that we could adjust frequency later on when ridership and revenue levels make that appropriate," said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. "We're also trying to be as flexible as we can so that the T can be as agile as possible for restoring service."

In the FMCB's resolution to approve the service cuts, an amendment from FMCB director Monica Tibbits-Nutt will require the FMCB to assess rider demand for transit service before March 15, 2021 and, "if feasible," to allocate additional resources to meet that demand.

Note: this story was corrected on Wednesday Dec. 16 to clarify an FMCB board amendment to the service cuts proposal regarding the commuter rail service reductions. A previous version reported that the MBTA staff proposal, to close commuter rail service at 9 p.m. every weeknight, was endorsed in the FMCB's final vote; in fact, the FMCB passed an amendment to that proposal to eliminate the reference to 9 p.m., and instead directed the T to "adjust weekday schedules to optimize span of service."

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