Improvements on the MBTA

A view of the South Station MBTA stop. (Photo by Andre Ragel)

By Andre Ragel

The MBTA is trying its best to offer quality service in spite of the agency’s budget deficit, officials said, but on a hot, summer day, passengers such as Judy Albee have some complaints.

“Air-conditioning is sub-par, and the 39 bus never runs on time,” said Albee, while waiting for an Orange Line train at State Street station.

Albee’s complaint is one of several shared in a “man-on-the-street” interview. However, officials said they are optimistic that improvements will decrease complaints.

One of the MBTA’s current improvements is the purchase of new Orange and Red Line subway cars to replace the aging fleet. The cars, scheduled to be in service by 2019, will cost $1.3 billion.

Other improvements include making the stations of the oldest subway system in America more accessible to customers with disabilities and the opening of Somerville’s Assembly Square station in August or September. According to Joe Pesaturo, director of communications for the MBTA, Assembly Station is the first new station to open since the Orange Line extension from Back Bay to Forest Hills in the late 1980s.

The MBTA is also working to improve the system for bicyclists. The agency has partnered with MassBike, a nonprofit statewide bicycle advocacy group, to make the T more bike-friendly. The MBTA will install bike racks on all of the 226 new Orange and Red Line cars currently on order, according to T officials.

MassBike Executive Director David Watson has also proposed installing new bike racks on commuter rail coaches and easing bike restrictions on the Blue Line to allow bicyclists to bring their bikes onto the subway. Watson said that currently because of the Boston Harbor commuting to Boston is more difficult for East Boston bicyclists.
All of these improvements come with a price tag.

“We need lots of money,” said Pesaturo, chuckling at the MBTA’s $3 billion debt. He added that the MBTA must pay $450 million annually to banks just on the interest.

Paul Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory board, said that in addition to the T’s revenue from annual assessments, fares, sales tax, advertising and parking, this year the agency received $160 million in contract assistance, and financing from a state bailout to cover its funding gap for the next five years.

Also, large-scale capital spending projects such as the South Coast rail and the Green Line extension to Somerville were removed from the T’s budget and added to the state’s budget, he added.

This allowed the MBTA to spend more money on the new Orange and Red Line subway cars, Regan said.

Regan added that the T is in good shape for the next four years financially, and they should be able to get their hands around their debt.

A woman walks along the platform of an empty Aquarium station on the T's Blue Line. (Photo by Andre Ragel)

A woman walks along the platform of an empty Aquarium station on the T’s Blue Line. (Photo by Andre Ragel)

The MBTA continually makes changes to its buses and subway system. Some key changes have been the re-introduction of a commuter rail to the Greenbush Line and enhanced service to the Worcester/Framingham commuter line, the installation of countdown clocks to alert passengers of the next train at the Blue, Red and Orange Lines, and the introduction of the Silver Line.

In spite of all the changes, many passengers still have complaints about service.
“The Red and Orange Lines have become increasingly crowded. They should run more cars,” said West Roxbury resident Joan Collins.

“Unless they can give better service, they have no right to go up,” said Carol Durkin from Everett, who said she strongly opposed the fare increase on July 1.

“People are generally happy with the service they take. Passengers value on-time performance, safety and cleanliness the most,” said Regan referring to MBTA customer satisfaction surveys. “The MBTA does a pretty good job in listening to customers and fulfilling the promises they made.”

A few T riders had good things to say, but wanted to remain anonymous. Comments included: “They did a good job on their renovations of the Orient Height station,” and “Really, really convenient and pretty good service.”

Regan said there is trend toward more people moving into the city and if it continues they will want to take advantage of safe, clean and reliable public transit to get around Greater Boston.

“The T wants to make improvements, just as the customers do. We certainly hear what people have to say,” said Pesaturo. “For the most part, the T offers quality service. We’re only as good as our last rush hour.”

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