MBTA customer experience describes the reliability, comfort, accessibility, and other service qualities experienced by MBTA riders in FY20. Reliability increased for nearly all modes from the previous fiscal year, likely in part due to decreased congestion and ridership at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.
Bus comfort standards were revised to accommodate social distancing guidelines, and the implementation of new transit priority projects in FY20 increased the number of bus lanes and transit priority signals, improving service for bus riders. While platform accessibility (elevator uptime) saw little change in FY20 over FY19, station upgrades and the MBTA’s Plan for Accessible Transit Infrastructure (PATI) are improving accessibility at MBTA stations and bus stops.
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 improved by 3.4 percent from FY19 to 81.5 percent in FY20, continuing an upward trend from FY16. Blue Line reliability improved 1.2 percent to 96.0 percent, while the Orange Line showed no year-over-year change in reliability. Red Line reliability improved by 1.6 percent from FY19 to 91.0 percent in FY20, despite a derailment at JFK/UMass in June 2019 that resulted in damage to the Red Line switch and signal system in the area, which caused service impacts into September 2019. Overall, the Red, Orange, and Blue lines exceeded the FY20 subway reliability target of 90 percent. The MBTA is in the process of accelerating a number of capital projects that will improve tracks, signals, and other infrastructure to contribute to overall reliability.
Subway Reliability – FY20 Monthly
Because operations were required to shift to a manual signal system after the June 2019 derailment and during the recovery period, Red Line reliability was significantly lower in early FY20 until service was fully restored in late September 2019. Subway reliability generally improved or stayed consistent in spring and summer 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, due in part to lower ridership and reduced dwell times, especially during peak periods.
Subway Passenger Travel Time Performance
Subway passenger travel time performance measures the percent of customers whose time spent on board a train is within 3 minutes of the scheduled travel time, reflecting the experiences of MBTA riders as a supplemental reliability measure. Passenger travel time performance increased to 97.2 percent in FY20 for both the Orange and Green lines, while performance for the Blue Line decreased by 0.1 percent to 97.8 percent in FY20. Due to the Red Line derailment at JFK/UMass in June 2019, travel time performance for the Red Line decreased by 1.6 percent from FY19 to 94.1 percent in FY20.
Subway Passenger Travel Time Performance – FY20 Monthly
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 FY20, reliability increased from FY19 for Silver Line, Key Bus, and Other Bus routes. Silver Line reliability improved by 3.9 percent from FY19 to 81.7 percent in FY20, exceeding the 80 percent reliability target for Silver Line routes in FY20. Reliability for Key Bus routes increased to 78.5 percent in FY20, a 1.9 percent improvement from the previous year, but still under the 80 percent target for those routes. Reliability also improved for Other Bus routes in FY20, increasing 3.6 percent to 66.6 percent, 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 2019 route changes, expansion of bus transit priority, and the Bus Network Redesign.
Bus Reliability – FY20 Monthly
Bus reliability generally improved in spring and summer 2020, due in part to decreased road congestion and fewer riders in the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bus Passenger Minutes in Comfortable Service
Bus passenger minutes in comfortable service measures the percent of passenger minutes during which bus riders are in comfortable, rather than crowded, conditions. Bus passenger comfort is measured as the number of riders on a vehicle relative to the number of seats on the vehicle. In non-pandemic times, all passengers are generally considered comfortable when the vehicle is at or below 140 percent of seated capacity during peak periods, or 125 percent of seated capacity during off-peak periods. In FY20, 92.1 percent of bus passenger minutes were in comfortable conditions during the fall 2019 rating, below the 96 percent target.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic required changes to comfort standards to reflect social distancing guidelines to ensure rider and operator safety. For travel during the pandemic, new comfort standards allow for 3 feet of distance between riders on vehicles, and consider passengers crowded at significantly lower capacity levels than pre-pandemic.
Bus Passenger Minutes in Comfortable Service – Spring 2020 Weekly
In the spring 2020 rating during the pandemic, 94.2 percent of bus passenger minutes were in comfortable conditions. This increase in comfort from fall 2019 despite the revised crowding standards likely reflects reduced ridership on MBTA buses, and increased service levels on routes with sustained ridership. Weekly crowding percentages reflect that less than 5 percent of passenger minutes were in crowded conditions from the week of March 22 through the week of May 10, during the Stay at Home Advisory in Massachusetts. The MBTA began piloting real-time bus crowding information in summer 2020, now available for most bus routes.
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 by 0.5 percent from FY19 to 90.2 percent in FY20, slightly above the target of 90 percent.
Commuter Rail Reliability – FY20 Monthly
Commuter rail reliability generally improved in spring and summer 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, due in part to lower ridership and reduced dwell times, especially during peak periods.
Commuter Rail Service Operated
Commuter rail service operated, a supplemental reliability measure, is the percent of scheduled train trips that completed at least part of their route. When a train is cancelled, it lowers both commuter rail reliability and service operated. In FY20, trains ran (meaning they were not cancelled) 99.8 percent of the time, no change from FY19.
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 2.6 percent from FY19 to 98.2 percent in FY20, exceeding the target of 97 percent.
Ferry Reliability – FY20 Monthly
MBTA ferry service was temporarily suspended on March 17, 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Limited weekday ferry service resumed on June 22, 2020. Because of the service suspension, ferry reliability for FY20 includes limited trip data for March and June 2020, and does not include data for April and May 2020. Exceptionally high reliability in June 2020 is due in part to only nine days of ferry service measured in the month.
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 improved by 2 percent from FY19 to 92.4 percent in FY20, exceeding the target of 90 percent.
The RIDE Reliability – FY20 Monthly
The RIDE reliability generally improved in spring and summer 2020, due in part to decreased road congestion in the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic and operational changes made to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
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 involving the geometry of the street, curb, or platform.
The station accessibility measure assesses a total of 22 Red Line stations, 20 Orange Line stations, 12 Blue Line stations, 66 Green Line stations and surface stops, 8 Mattapan Trolley stations, 31 Silver Line stations, and 142 commuter rail stations. The completion of the Green Line Extension (GLX) will add six accessible stations to the MBTA system.
All Red Line, Orange Line, and Silver Line stations are currently accessible, following the reopening of Wollaston Station on the Red Line in August 2019 after full reconstruction. Nearly all stations are currently accessible on both the Blue Line and Mattapan Trolley, with the exception of Bowdoin (Blue Line) and Valley Road (Mattapan Trolley). On the Green Line, 32 of 66 stations including surface stops are currently accessible. By FY24, the MBTA is targeting the completion of accessibility upgrades at 11 existing Green Line stations, along with the addition of six accessible stations as part of the Green Line Extension. For commuter rail, 110 of 142 stations are currently accessible, with at least two additional stations anticipated to be made accessible by FY24.
Platform Accessibility (Elevator Uptime)
Many stations require elevators to be accessible for riders, meaning that elevator maintenance and unplanned outages can affect the abilities of riders to access MBTA services. Platform accessibility, or elevator uptime, measures the percentage of platform hours in which elevators at accessible stations were operational, indicating that riders could use elevators to access the platform. A platform is considered accessible during those service hours when passengers can reach the street and any transfer platforms without using stairs or escalators. Platforms are also considered accessible when shuttle buses provide alternate service during long-term elevator reconstruction.
This measure differs from system-wide average elevator uptime measures by assessing the available hours of platforms by elevators rather than the average availability of all elevators. In this approach, a platform is deemed inaccessible if any elevator that is essential to accessing the platform is out of service. Stations with redundant elevators or multiple accessible pathways, however, will have platforms that remain accessible even if one of those elevators is out of service. This elevator uptime measure encompasses the elevators at rapid transit and commuter rail stations that are owned and maintained by the MBTA. This includes elevators at most rapid transit and shared rapid transit–commuter rail stations, plus Boston Landing, Lansdowne, and Lynn commuter rail stations.
Platform accessibility stayed consistent at 99.4 percent accessible platform hours in FY19 and FY20. Because occasional preventative maintenance is necessary for elevator upkeep, the long-term measure target is not currently 100 percent. However, installation of redundant elevators can help to improve platform accessibility, because platform access is preserved even if one elevator of a set is unavailable.
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 accessibility barriers such as missing curb ramps and uneven sidewalks, and determined that 84 percent of bus stops had at least one barrier. 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 stages, prioritizing stops by the severity of barriers, overall ridership, and the number of seniors and people with disabilities living in the area. Importantly, 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 system-wide accessibility improvements and 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 FY20, there were 243 remaining stops with critical barriers, 659 remaining stops with high-priority barriers, and 219 paired or other priority stops. By the end of FY22, the PATI program plans to eliminate all critical barriers at stops and reduce stops with high-priority barriers to 520, either by reconstructing the stop or eliminating as appropriate.
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 Allston, Arlington, Boston, Cambridge, Everett, Roslindale, Somerville, and Watertown. At the end of FY20, a total of 9.8 bus priority miles had been implemented, an increase of 3 miles from 6.8 miles in FY19. Additionally, 44 transit priority signals had been implemented at the end of FY20, doubled from the 22 signals at the end of FY19. 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 fall rating of FY20, 29,697 passenger miles were in bus priority corridors on an average weekday. This equates to 3 percent of average weekday passenger miles with direct benefits from bus priority corridors. Many more riders receive indirect benefits from bus priority corridors even if they do not directly ride in them, through improved reliability of bus routes. In the fall rating of FY20, 41 percent of passenger miles on an average weekday were on routes that benefitted from bus priority corridors, and thus received indirect benefits from transit priority projects. Passenger benefits were evaluated for fall 2019, and do not reflect benefits during the pandemic.