MBTA Healthy & Sustainable Transportation

Bus Only Lane in Boston
Photo Credit: Susana Hey, MBTA

The MBTA’s expansive service and prominent regional position mean it has significant potential to alleviate congestion and mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from single-occupancy vehicles through mode shift—trips taken on transit that may have otherwise been taken by car. Measures such as MBTA ridership, quality of MBTA service, and access to transit may help to indicate the potential for mode shift.

GHG emissions reductions and bus electrification efforts also work to advance healthy and sustainable transportation in the region. The MBTA is currently reevaluating its electricity procurement contract, with the intention of 100 percent of its electricity supply from January 2021 through December 2023 coming from renewable energy sources. This will result in complete avoidance of the 36 percent of the MBTA’s current GHG emissions that come from electricity usage starting January 1, 2021.

 

 

Ridership

Annual Ridership

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[Data Table]

Ridership measures the number of rides the MBTA system provides each year. In accordance with industry standard, ridership is measured as unlinked passenger trips (UPT), which reflect each time a passenger boards a transit vehicle. Unlinked passenger trips include estimates for trips that are not directly measured, such as behind-the-gate transfers and trips in which riders do not interact with the fare system. Ridership estimates for FY20 are preliminary and may be adjusted in the future. Riders completed a total of 274 million unlinked passenger trips across all MBTA services in FY20, or roughly 933,000 UPT on an average weekday. This represents a 25 percent decrease from 367 million UPT in FY19, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bus service retained the highest proportion of its ridership from FY19 to FY20 compared to other modes with a 19 percent decrease in ridership, roughly 22 million fewer UPT. Light rail saw the greatest ridership decline of 31 percent from FY19 to FY20, roughly 18 million fewer UPT. Despite differences in ridership declines between modes, heavy rail, light rail, and bus continued to account for about 90 percent of system ridership in FY20, unchanged from FY19.

Ridership – FY20 Monthly

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[Data Table]

Monthly ridership estimates for FY20 are preliminary and may be adjusted in the future. Monthly ridership may not match annual and monthly ridership estimates reported to the National Transit Database (NTD) due to new data that may become available after reports are submitted, such as from Green Line vehicles. The most current ridership estimates can be found on the MBTA Back on Track Dashboard.

At the onset of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March 2020, the MBTA began discouraging all non-essential travel in accordance with social distancing guidelines and the Governor’s Stay at Home Advisory. Most modes transitioned to modified Saturday schedules—with extra trips added on some routes with sustained ridership to mitigate crowding—while rear-door boarding was implemented on bus and light rail, and ferry service was temporarily suspended. MBTA ridership experienced a drop of nearly 85 percent between February and April 2020. Most modes had resumed or increased weekday service by the end of June, but unlinked trips in June 2020 had returned to only 24 percent of February ridership levels across the system. In June 2020, roughly 53 percent of total trips were taken on bus, with 37 percent on subway (heavy and light rail), 9 percent on commuter rail, and 1 percent on ferry and the RIDE.

 

Span of Service

Span of service, assessing hours of operation, measures the percent of passenger trips taken on services that operate at least during the hours of the day in which the service is expected to be available. Span of service standards differ depending on the day type—weekday, Saturday, or Sunday—and the mode type—subway, bus, commuter rail, or ferry. Standards also vary between types of bus routes, such as local, commuter, and key bus routes. In FY19 and FY20, 100 percent of passenger trips on subway and weekday commuter rail services met the span of service standard. Due to data limitations, commuter rail and Mattapan Trolley services are currently not evaluated for weekends. In FY20, 98 percent of trips on bus services met the standard, exceeding the 95 percent target and improving upon the FY19 result by 1 percent. Of trips on ferry services, 85 percent met the span of service standard in FY20. Span of service for FY20 is evaluated on the fall 2019 rating only and does not incorporate spring 2020 data.

Frequency of Service

Frequency of service is the percent of passenger trips taken on services that operate at least at the expected frequency, measured either using the expected time between trips or the expected number of trips per time period. Service frequency standards differ depending on the day type or weekday time period—such as AM and PM peak, midday, or weekend—and the mode type—subway, bus, commuter rail, or ferry. Standards also vary between types of bus routes, such as local, commuter, and key bus routes. In FY19 and FY20, 100 percent of passenger trips on subway, ferry, and weekday commuter rail services met the frequency standard. Due to data limitations, commuter rail and Mattapan Trolley services are currently not evaluated for weekends. In FY20, 88 percent of trips on bus services met the standard, improving upon the FY19 result by 1 percent but falling short of the 95 percent target. Frequency of service for FY20 is evaluated on the fall 2019 rating only and does not incorporate spring 2020 data.

 

Access to Transit

Residents of the region are more likely to use transit if they can conveniently reach a transit stop, and close proximity to transit service is especially critical for residents who do not have a car or would spend a high proportion of their income on car ownership. Coverage is measured within the cities and towns of the MBTA’s core service area that are not served by a regional transit authority (RTA), based on residents’ walking distances (defined as one half mile) from bus stops, rapid transit stations, commuter rail stations, and ferry docks. Additional residents may be able to access transit from beyond walking distances, by car or bicycle. Coverage for FY20 is evaluated on the fall 2019 rating only and does not incorporate spring 2020 data. In the absence of major MBTA service changes, variations in coverage are likely due primarily to regional shifts in population and distribution.

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[Data Table]

Base Coverage

Base coverage measures the percent of the total population in the core service area that is within one half mile of any MBTA service. In FY20, 83.3 percent of residents had access within a half mile to MBTA transit service, a slight increase from 83.2 percent of residents in FY19.

Frequent Service Coverage

Frequent service coverage is the percent of residents in dense neighborhoods that are within one half mile of frequent MBTA service. Dense neighborhoods are U.S. Census block groups within the core service area with at least 7,000 residents per square mile, and stops or stations with frequent service have transit service at least every 15 minutes on weekdays. In FY20, 60.8 percent of residents in dense neighborhoods had access within a half mile to frequent MBTA service, a slight increase from 60.6 percent of residents in FY19.

Low-Income Household Coverage

Low-income household coverage is the percent of low-income households in the core service area that are within one half mile of any MBTA service. In FY20, 88.8 percent of low-income households had access within a half mile to MBTA transit service, no change from FY19.

 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reported as the MBTA’s total GHG emissions in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2e) and also as the rate normalized by total unlinked passenger trips (UPT). This measure does not account for GHG savings acquired via mode shift, from trips taken on transit rather than in single-occupancy vehicles. 

In FY20, the MBTA emitted 355 million kg CO2e, a 12 percent decrease from 401 million kg CO2e in FY19, primarily due to decreased service operation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rate of GHG emissions was 1.29 kg CO2e per UPT, an 18 percent increase from 1.09 in FY19. This increase in the rate of GHG emissions despite the reduction in total emissions was largely due to the significant drop in unlinked passenger trips in FY20 during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the emissions associated with service operation did not decrease to the same degree. Ridership estimates for FY20 are preliminary and may be adjusted in the future. The 36 percent of the MBTA’s current GHG emissions that come from electricity usage will be avoided starting January 1, 2021 with the execution of a new electricity contract, supplied by 100 percent renewable energy sources.

Bus Fleet Composition

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[Data Table]

Bus fleet composition measures the proportions of the MBTA bus fleet that are electric or hybrid, or utilize compressed natural gas (CNG) or diesel fuel sources. Buses classified as electric include battery-electric buses and electric trolley buses, while buses classified as hybrid—with both electric and conventional fuel options—include traditional hybrid buses and Dual Mode Silver Line buses. In FY20, the MBTA’s 1,170-bus fleet was 3 percent electric (33 buses), 39 percent hybrid (460 buses), 15 percent CNG (175 buses), and 43 percent diesel (502 buses).