MBTA Customer Experience

MBTA customer experience describes the reliability, comfort, accessibility, and other service qualities experienced by MBTA riders in FY21. Reliability increased in FY21 for nearly all modes from the previous fiscal year. Implementation of new transit priority projects in FY21 nearly doubled both active bus priority miles and active transit priority signals, improving service for bus riders. Station upgrades and the MBTA’s Plan for Accessible Transit Infrastructure (PATI) are improving accessibility at MBTA stations and bus stops, and in spring 2021, 100 percent of Green Line trips had accessible vehicles.


Subway Reliability

Subway reliability measures the percent of customers who wait no longer than the scheduled amount of time between trains. Further illustration and daily reliability updates can be found on the MBTA Back on Track Dashboard.

Green Line reliability stayed consistent at 81.5 percent in FY21, and Blue Line reliability improved to 97.0 percent. The Orange Line showed a slight decrease in reliability to 89.9 percent, while Red Line reliability improved to 92.8 percent in FY21. Overall, the Red and Blue lines exceeded the FY22 subway reliability target of 90 percent. The MBTA has many in-progress capital projects that will improve tracks, signals, and other infrastructure to contribute to overall reliability.

Bus Reliability

Bus reliability measures how often buses depart or arrive within a few minutes of the expected times, depending on the type of bus route. For routes that come every 15 minutes or less (Silver Line and Key Bus routes), reliability is the percent of buses that are no more than 3 minutes later than the scheduled time between buses. For Other Bus services, reliability is the percent of buses that arrive or depart within 6 minutes of the scheduled time. Bus reliability is measured at the beginning and end of each route, and at key stops in between. Further illustration and daily reliability updates can be found on the MBTA Back on Track Dashboard.

In FY21, reliability increased from FY20 for Silver Line, Key Bus, and Other Bus routes. Silver Line reliability improved to 83.9 percent in FY21, and Key Bus route reliability increased to 80.6 percent in FY21, both exceeding the 80 percent target for those routes. Reliability also improved for Other Bus routes in FY21, increasing to 70.4 percent but still below the target of 75 percent for those routes. Higher targets for Silver Line and Key Bus routes reflect the higher numbers of riders that rely on those routes. The Better Bus Project is working to improve bus reliability through initiatives such as the expansion of bus transit priority, bus facility modernization, and the Bus Network Redesign.

Commuter Rail Reliability

Commuter rail reliability measures the percent of trains that arrive at their final stop no more than 5 minutes later than scheduled. Further illustration and daily reliability updates can be found on the MBTA Back on Track Dashboard. Commuter rail reliability improved to 94.0 percent in FY21, exceeding the target of 90 percent.

Ferry Reliability

Ferry reliability measures the percent of ferry trips that arrive at their final destination no more than 5 minutes later than scheduled. Ferry reliability improved to 99.6 percent in FY21, exceeding the target of 97 percent.

The RIDE Reliability

The RIDE reliability measures how promptly passengers are picked up and dropped off—it is the percent of completed trips where customers were picked up no later than 15 minutes after the scheduled pickup time and dropped off no later than 10 minutes after any scheduled appointment time. The RIDE reliability decreased slightly to 91.7 percent in FY21, still exceeding the target of 90 percent.


Station Accessibility

The ability for all customers to reach a subway, commuter rail, or Silver Line platform depends on whether stations are designed to be accessible. Subway stations are typically accessible using elevators, while accessible commuter rail stations may include elevators or ramps in combination with high or mini-high platforms for level boarding. Surface stops on the Mattapan, Green, and Silver Lines have different accessibility requirements—at times difficult to implement due to challenging geometry of the street, curb, or platform. More information on system-wide accessibility improvements can be found on the MBTA website.

At the end of FY21, 75.2 percent of MBTA stations were accessible, no major change from FY20. All Red Line, Orange Line, and Silver Line stations are accessible, and nearly all stations are accessible on both the Blue Line and Mattapan Trolley, except for Bowdoin (Blue Line) and Valley Road (Mattapan Trolley). On the Green Line, 31 of 66 stations including surface stops were accessible at the end of FY21; for commuter rail, 108 of 141 stations were accessible. By FY24, the MBTA is targeting the completion of accessibility upgrades at eight existing Green Line stations, along with six new accessible stations as part of the Green Line Extension, and three existing commuter rail stations, along with five new accessible South Coast Rail stations.

Elevator Uptime

Many stations require elevators to be accessible for riders, meaning that elevator maintenance and unplanned outages can affect the abilities of people to access MBTA services. Elevator uptime measures the percent of total elevator-hours in which elevators are operational. This measure encompasses the elevators at rapid transit and Commuter Rail stations that are owned and maintained by the MBTA. Instances of long-term planned outages in which accessible shuttle alternatives are provided (typically when an elevator is being completely rebuilt) are excluded from the measure.

Elevator uptime for FY21 was 99.5 percent, no change from FY20. Some regular elevator maintenance is required to ensure system safety.

Green Line Vehicle Accessibility

Even from an accessible platform, customers can encounter barriers boarding some Green Line trains. Most Green Line trains consist of two vehicles: one low-floor accessible train car (considered ADA-compliant) and another train car with stairs at every door. Green Line vehicle accessibility is the percent of Green Line train trips that include at least one low-floor accessible train car.

In spring 2021, 100 percent of Green Line train trips were accessible. The Green Line vehicle accessibility measure methodology has been refined since FY20 to reflect closer tracking and more accurate data.

Bus Stop Accessibility

Even though the entire MBTA bus fleet is accessible, customers can still encounter barriers at bus stops due to inaccessible curbs, sidewalks, landing pads, and more. A survey of all bus stops in 2017-2018 identified many accessibility barriers, and to prioritize improvements, stops were grouped into four categories: critical stops (fundamentally inaccessible), high-priority stops (two or more significant access barriers), medium-priority stops (one significant access barrier), and low-priority stops (negligible or no barriers). The MBTA’s Plan for Accessible Transit Infrastructure (PATI) is removing barriers at critical and high-priority bus stops in multiple phases. Since the majority of MBTA bus stops are located on municipal or privately owned sidewalks, PATI also shares collected data with municipalities to help cities and towns remove remaining access barriers. More information on PATI can be found on the MBTA website.

The bus stop accessibility measure tracks the number of remaining stops with critical and high-priority barriers, as well as “other” priority stops. The “other” priority stops include new or relocated stops and stops that are “paired” with critical or high-priority stops. A paired stop corresponds to a critical or high-priority stop, serving travel in the opposite direction (perhaps across the street). Reconstruction of a bus stop usually includes the reconstruction of its corresponding paired stop. Barriers are considered removed if the bus stop is reconstructed to be fully accessible, or if the stop is closed due to low ridership.

At the end of FY21, there were 242 remaining stops with critical barriers, 654 remaining stops with high-priority barriers, and 214 paired or other priority stops. These remaining 1,100 priority stops comprise around 14 percent of the system’s more than 8,000 total bus stops. The PATI program faced several challenges in FY21, including labor capacity and supply chain issues. The MBTA is currently evaluating increasing contractor capacity to meet program goals.

Transit Priority

Regional congestion affects the bus travel time and reliability experienced by MBTA bus riders, and municipal management of streets and signals has a significant impact on bus service. Through partnerships with municipalities and communities in the region, the MBTA has identified key corridors for focused investment in bus priority infrastructure to facilitate fewer delays, faster bus trips, and more reliable and frequent service. Bus transit priority features can include bus lanes or shared bus/bike lanes; transit signal priority (TSP), which gives preference to buses at traffic lights; and queue jumps, which allow buses to bypass waiting traffic with short priority lanes and early green signals. Other features include streetscape and roadway changes, such as curb extensions at bus stops, to make bus movements more efficient.

Bus Priority Infrastructure

Transit priority projects have been implemented in several municipalities in Greater Boston, including Arlington, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, Malden, Quincy, Roslindale, Somerville, and Watertown. At the end of FY21, a total of 17.7 bus priority miles were active, an increase of nearly 9 miles from 9.8 miles in FY20.

At the end of FY21, 81 transit priority signals were active, nearly doubled from the 44 signals at the end of FY20. More information on in-progress and upcoming transit priority projects can be found on the MBTA website.

Passenger Benefits from Bus Priority Corridors

Corridors in which transit priority projects are most impactful have not only high congestion and delay, but also high ridership to benefit the most possible passengers. In the spring rating of FY21, 36,000 passenger miles were in bus priority corridors or queue jumps on an average weekday, a decrease from 57,000 passenger miles in the fall of FY20 due to lower ridership during the pandemic. This, however, equates to 8.1 percent of average weekday passenger miles with direct benefits from bus priority corridors, an increase from 5.6 percent in the fall of FY20. Many more riders experience indirect benefits from bus priority corridors due to the improvement in reliability to the rest of the route during operating hours. In the spring rating of FY21, 42 percent of passenger miles on an average weekday were on trips that benefitted from bus priority corridors and thus received indirect benefits from transit priority projects, up from 33 percent in the fall of FY20.

Using pre-pandemic rider demographic estimates, we can also approximate the indirect transit priority benefits experienced by riders of color and riders in low-income households. Thirty-nine percent of passenger miles traveled by riders of color and 42 percent of passenger miles traveled by riders in low-income households received indirect benefits from transit priority projects finished by the spring of FY21. Forty-two percent of all riders, of all races and incomes, experienced these indirect benefits.