The T is a huge operation and when you look at the ridership numbers you begin to grasp the enormous task it faces each morning getting people in, out and around Boston. The MBTA is the nation’s fifth-largest mass transit system measured in terms of ridership. It serves a daily ridership of 1.2 million passengers and covers a district made up of 175 communities in eastern Massachusetts. The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization has made available the raw numbers (though some are a few years old) and I will try to present them in a concise way.
The numbers on the left are from 2003 and it shows at a glance that 65% of the ridership of the bus-subway system relies on the 4 major subway lines. Ridership has actually increased from these numbers as was cited by the Globe’s Keith O’Brien when he rode the Orange Line for an entire day
one year ago to get the pulse of the people who ride the T. The Boston ridership profile is the complete opposite of Chicago where two-thirds of the ridership take buses
instead of the L system.
To move this tremendous number of people the T operates 159 bus routes (8,600 bus stops), 3 subway lines, 2 trolley lines that splits into 5 branches), 1 bus rapid transit line (Silver Line), 4 trackless trolley lines, and 11 commuter rail lines. To operate these lines it uses (numbers approximate) 408 subway vehicles, 181 trolleys vehicles, 973 buses, 40 trackless trolleys, 80 commuter rail locomotives, 362 commuter rail coaches, and 421 RIDE (paratransit) vehicles. The T needs to maintain 785 miles of track, 19 miles of tunnel, 275 stations, 560 bridges, 100 elevators and 132 escalators. The T also claims to have 56,213 commuter parking spaces in the system though there are many on the South Shore who would question that number.
So where are all these passengers coming from?
Some of the numbers are surprising to me as for example I was surprised to see that Davis Square (10,891) handles more passengers than Alewife (9,567). I doubt this was anticipated by the Northwest Extension planners back in the 1970’s who were forced by political pressure from Somerville to bend the route to include Somerville. The transformation that has occurred in the Davis area since the subway’s opening in 1984 is stunning. The former Mayor of Somerville, Eugene Brune recalls that even the Chamber of Commerce didn’t want a subway stop in Davis Square
. The planners of the Red Line wanted to build the line into Arlington Center but residents of the town did not want the subway and it finally terminated at Alewife.
How the Red Line Extension was designed and built
The high number of boardings at Forest Hills (12,584) show that the Orange Line should have been extended further south to perhaps Rte 128 Station in Westwood. The opportunity existed 30 years ago when the Southwest Expressway was scrapped
after the right of way had been cleared but like Arlington the residents of Hyde Park and West Roxbury wanted no part of subway service fearing it would bring changes to the area so the relocated Orange Line continued to terminate at Forest Hills.
On the Blue Line the high number of boardings at Wonderland (6,071) indicate that the line should be extended to at least Lynn and perhaps Salem as well, but that has been talked about for fifty years since the line was extended to Revere. Maverick is by far the heaviest used station with 10,015 boardings because of the number of bus passengers who transfer there after coming from East Boston and Chelsea.
The Green Line numbers also are a surprise to me. Harvard and Commonwealth on the B Line is the heaviest used stop (the numbers listed are from 1995) outside the subway followed by Coolidge Corner and Brookline Village. As any B Line rider would suspect it is the heaviest used of the trolley lines, followed by D, E and C.
The above link breaks down every bus route in the system and it dramatically shows how dependent Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain are with their buses. The #39 Forest Hills-Copley bus is the systems busiest with the #1,#23,#28, and #66 all have over 10,000 passengers a day. Other workhorse routes are the #57 and #111. The T has been working hard to modernize the bus fleet with more on the way. There was the unfortunate misstep of ordering buses from NeoplanUSA
and it remains to be seen how much of a problem getting parts for the Neoplans will become as the company closed down while filling a T order. The Neoplan buses include the 60 foot buses used on the Silver Line-Washington Street, the #32 and #39, Silver Line-Waterfront-Airport, trackless trolleys serving Cambridge-Watertown-Belmont and heavy use in the Quincy division.
The breakdown for the Commuter Rail stations
shows some problems on several lines with ridership. The Framingham/Worcester line dropped from 9,990 inbound passengers a day in 2003 to 8,248 a year ago. This is no doubt because of the major delays on that line as the T fights with the CSX Railroad over train slots. Major drops can be seen on the Newburyport/Rockport line and Franklin lines but the network also saw increases on the Lowell and Fitchburg lines. The Providence line is the most heavily traveled and that will only increase with all trains now going to Rhode Island and expansion to the Providence Airport slated to open in 2 years.
So now you at least have a better idea at the challenges the T faces every workday morning to shuttle hundreds of thousands of passengers all over Boston. It is not an easy task and while some commuting days can be a nightmare, the T by and large does a decent job.
Hopefully this forum will help make it better.