• Will the Riders Come Back?

  • Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.
Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

Moderators: sery2831, CRail

  by BowdoinStation
Last week, I was fortunate enough to go to a Sawx game. Even though I do not reside in the Greater Boston area, my method of going to the game has not changed from when I grew up in the area.. Always taking in the trusty rails of the Subway. Yes, the Sawx are allowing only 4000 fans (if that) into Fenway park, but still I walked into a ghost town at Kenmore after the game got out. Park Street station, around 5pm, a huge ghost town, the Red Line platforms looked like a Sunday morning at 7:15 am.. NO ONE THERE! This was at 5pm on a weekday, where those platforms should be full of people, waiting to get into a trains, filled with people.. Will the riders come back? It felt to me like an episode of "the Twilight Zone".. Can't think this is good for business, as they say..
  by BandA
I was in Charlestown this morning, the Schrafft's parking lot in Sullivan Square (the former premier candy factory that has been office space since the 1980s) was about 35% full vs 100% pre-pandemic. But it is office space so people shouldn't be there. My total wild guess is that it will take about 3 years to backfill most of the office space in Boston, probably at lower rent than before.
  by Arborwayfan
I'm thinking yes, the riders will come back, at least after a little while. I'm more confident about rapid transit and bus riders than about commuter rail. The rapid transit lines serve areas that are going to be high populated and hard to drive in for the forseeable future. Eastern Mass is so full of people that it's even possible that some office buildings might end up converted to condos. So there'll be people wanted to get around. I don't see work-from-home-every-day continuing (maybe just because I don't like to do it every day...), but there could still be a bit less work downtown, and most of the CR lines are pretty much drive-park-ride downtown, both in terms of what's near the outer stations and in terms of the service patterns. Those are my guesses.
  by rethcir
Barely a quarter of the population is vaccinated, give it a couple months and I think people will be much more willing to ride the T.
  by dieciduej
I would say in about a year once there are more people vaccinated the ridership will be back to at least 75%. I'm a captive audience since I do not have a car and I am not a patient city driver. Since February '21 the ridership has been increasing daily, in the 5 AM to 6 AM and the 3 PM to 4 PM time slots when I am traveling. Companies are quietly bringing personal back to the office, whether it be full-in or rotational. Those that still want to work from home will find the distinction of work and family life will blend to a point that getting on the T or in the buggy and driving to work will be a pleasure. I have always tried to separate the two and the five months I was full WFH got to the point I was working the computer for corporate 5 AM to 10 PM instead of my normal 7 AM to 3 PM time frame.
  by RenegadeMonster
I have heard some estimates that ridership may not be back to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest.

COVID-19 has resulted in a cultural shift. It is now acceptable to work from home at many more businesses. Many of which will continue allow it post pandemic. Whether someone works from home full time, or a couple days a week.

Some people commuting into the city also have adjusted to driving instead of public transportation. They may not feel public transportation is a safe place to be should we ever get another pandemic.

All in all, there will be less people working in offices in downtown Boston for at least a few years to come.
  by kitchin
Delta Airlines is shedding all its B-777's this year, 18 planes. Its total fleet numbers 750.
  by charding
We have the same concern with Metro here in DC...the unknown here is...are folks going to continue to work from home, if they have that option...a lot of our neighbors who have discovered the joys [more quality family time] being able to work from home want to continue that option...and companies here are supportive...if you think about it, if companies can operation with their workers working from home, it will save these companies to pay for leasing office space...we are already seeing a softening of the retail office space leasing market here...only time will tell...but the bottom line? We are heading into a new normal; we just don’t know what it will look like...except that it will be different; the loser may be public transportation systems like the MBTA & Metro.
  by eolesen
My estimate is commutes of 30 minutes or greater won't recover past 75-80%. Those living further out tend to have more square footage and the ability to WFH with less impact than those living in a smaller footprint.

That impacts heavy rail disproportionately because without demand, express trains may not return, which will cause even more people to avoid commuting. Those also tend to be higher revenue tickets.

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  by Arborwayfan
One thing that could make a difference is flexible time. If a lot of people work different hours, or a half day sometimes, then midday ridership could increase. Of course, driving midday would be quicker and easier than driving in rush hour has historically been.

If the long rides in from the far suburbs might come back the slowest, the T might want to look at (or keep looking at) ways to make CR more attractive for other types oftrips: reverse commutes, suburb-to-suburb commutes, commutes or other trips with a change at S. Sta., Back Bay, or N. Sta. F. eks, are the schedules and fares conducive to getting from Boston or Quincy to Bridgewater State (station on campus), or from pts west of Framingham to Wellesley College (station almost on campus)? What about Newton to Bridgewater (etc.); how are the connection times at S. Station, and can they be improved? Through a quirk of the pass system, a zone two pass would be good for a daily commute from zone two on one line to zone two on another -- actually a four zone commute. I say keep that, but maybe also give some kind of discount for someone doing that on a one-way or RT ticket; at least let someone buy a single ticket or two tix bought at the same time for a trip using two CR lines, so there's no need to line up for a ticket before transferring. Are there enough potential pax with suburban homes and jobs near Forest Hills to have some of the Providence-line trains stop at Forest Hills, in spite of the disruption having the inbounds cross over to the outbound track would cause?
  by HenryAlan
That would certainly be strange to see those stations empty. I can't speak to your specific observations, but I commute by 'T once a week, and find that the trains have a pretty high ridership, high enough that I've given up on the idea of true social distancing. I'm a mask wearer and I'm vaccinated, so I'm not really concerned by that, but it illustrates the point that quite a few people are back to using the 'T, even if the percentages are still well below pre-COVID.
  by charlesriverbranch
Yes, they'll come back. Employers will call their people back into the office as soon as they think it's safe to do so. The working from home thing won't be tolerated by most employers, I predict. If it really were more profitable, companies would have shut their offices years ago. And when the traffic on the road gets intolerable, people will flood back onto the T.
  by eolesen
Well, my employer just made it official today that 95% of the jobs in Technology will become remote, and the only 5% remaining are those that are in the operations center and staffed 24/7. That's over 2,500 jobs no longer needing dedicated office space.

I stopped by a couple of Metra train stations on Monday. These are large suburban stops that used to see several hundred boardings each per day and had parking for 500+ cars except for one that only had 300 spaces. One had 50 cars, but was downtown and could have had people from other businesses using the commuter lot. The others had 40, 25, 25 and 15 cars each.

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  by BandA
Back on topic of predicting whether folks will come back. The office space is there, it will not be abandoned like the shopping malls have been or the mills & factories have been. It might take 2-5 years to backfill but barring severe recession collapse (which is a possibility) office space should return.

Companies in the US are spending way too much money on leasing/renting space. When I was New my employer in downtown Boston was paying more for my cubicle than they were paying me in salary. That is just bonkers. Also, employees have been putting up with commutes that are too long for too many years.

In some ways this "reset" may be good long-term for public transit, giving time to get sufficient equipment, perhaps not taking the riders for granted.
Last edited by CRail on Sat Apr 24, 2021 4:32 pm, edited 1 time in total. Reason: Removed references to a deleted post. You were correct that the comments in question were inappropriate for Railroad.net!
  by Adams_Umass_Boston
I think the growth we have seen on the T prior to the pandemic will slow but not stop. I am not convinced that all the riders will come back quickly, and I know some wont at all.

Examples -
My mom is a state worker who would commute downtown. The state leased 8 floors of an office tower and they have given up the lease on 6 floors. They plan on combining everyone to just two floors with shared offices. She has been told she may be asked to come in once ever two months. So she has no intention to buy a monthly pass anymore and will be remote working for the foreseeable future. My sister whom is also a state worker out in the middle of the state was also told that she and everyone one else in her division will be perinate remote working and will need to clear out her desk.

At the college I work for - we have always has an online component to our teachings. When everything shifted online, we saw what was successful and what was not. (As many colleges did.) We will have some students back this fall, meaning some will move back to Boston, but going forward, its very likely most will never need to return. In fact several of my colleagues at other colleges here in Boston are reporting the same thing, and that many will push to have more online and less on site. Giving up expensive leases on building in Boston is a real advantage.

As I watch all these condos go up here in East Boston and Revere - I have wondered where all these people are going to go on the Blue Line - now I wonder if the Pandemic and permanent work from home will ease that burden.

I have been going back to the office a few times a month since the outbreak, and I have notice a small uptick lately of people during rush-hour. But I have yet to experience the broken down train, everybody on the next one, and your face is shoved in some sweaty guy's armpit level of crush. So time will see what happens.