Maintaining Essential Services During the Pandemic
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continued to have significant impacts on the MBTA in the 2022 fiscal year, primarily through steep declines in MBTA ridership from pre-pandemic levels, and associated revenue losses that will continue to challenge the MBTA in future fiscal years.
Bus Network Redesign
Throughout fiscal 2022, the MBTA finalized plans for the Bus Network Redesign to be rolled out beginning in summer 2023. The Bus Network Redesign is a complete re-imagining of the MBTA’s bus network to better reflect the travel needs of the region and create a better experience for current and future bus riders. The Bus Network Redesign prioritizes the needs of riders who depend on buses and need frequent, reliable service. The Bus Network Redesign will benefit riders with 25% more bus service and 70% more weekend service. 275,000 more residents will live near high-frequency service (15 minutes or less all-day, 7 days a week service). 115,000 residents of color and 40,000 low-income households would gain access to high-frequency service.
In the Fall of 2021, the MBTA talked to riders about what they wanted to see in a new network, created an online survey, and incorporated feedback into the new design. During the spring and summer of 2022, the MBTA shared the new network proposal and made changes to more than half of the bus routes based on more than 20,000 comments. Critical feedback was grouped into three themes: 1) Concerns on specific route changes, connections, and routes proposed in the May 2022 draft network, 2) Desire to maintain one-seat ride and/or front door access to medical facilities and senior housing, and 3) Route length and reliability concerns. The MBTA is currently adopting feedback-based revisions to the proposed network and will begin Phase #1 in 2023. Implementation challenges include the Bus operator shortage, delivering transit priority projects, and the fleet and facilities program.
Orange Line Transformation Program
Since the close of FY22, the MBTA has accomplished many projects and received the findings from the FTA report initiated in FY22. The MBTA completed a 30-day full closure of the Orange Line to resolve many of the FTA’s issues. MBTA crews completed many projects in 30 days, including addressing six slow zones, renewing 20 units of special trackwork near Ruggles station, and completing 3,500 feet of track replacement. These accomplishments will enhance safety and accessibility while improving the rider experience.
Columbus Avenue Bus Lanes
On October 30, 2021, the Columbus Avenue Bus Lanes began operational service. The Columbus Avenue Bus Lanes Project is a partnership between the MBTA and the City of Boston. The project enables riders on bus routes 22, 29, and 44 to use New England’s first center-running bus lane, from Jackson Square to Walnut Ave. The new Columbus Avenue boarding platforms feature higher curbs for easier boarding, digital screens with real-time arrival information, canopy shelters, and safety barriers to separate riders on the platform from traffic. The new priority bus lanes provide riders with faster, more reliable trips, saving them four to seven minutes along the corridor.
Green Line Extension
The Green Line Extension (GLX) will extend the northern end of the Green Line from Lechmere to Union Square in Somerville and College Avenue in Medford. GLX will provide service in areas that historically did not have access to fast and reliable public transit. By supporting an increased ridership of more than 50,000 trips per day, this project will significantly reduce vehicle emissions on the road. The Union Branch of GLX opened for service on March 21, 2022. Service on the Medford Branch began on December 12, 2022. Once completed, GLX will add 4.3 revenue miles to the Green Line track.
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 transfers that do not involve fare equipment and trips in which riders do not interact with the fare system. Ridership estimates for FY22 may be adjusted slightly in the future.
Riders completed a total of 203 million unlinked passenger trips across all MBTA services in FY22, or roughly 641,000 UPT on an average weekday. This represents a 71 percent increase from 119 million UPT in FY21, which is a significant increase but still 44 percent lower than the 363 million UPT seen in FY19, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All modes increased ridership in FY22 compared to FY21. Bus service retained the highest proportion of its ridership throughout the pandemic and increased UPT by 41 percent in FY22 over FY21. Ferry, light rail, and commuter rail had the largest ridership increases in FY22 compared to FY21, at 247 percent, 200 percent, and 107 percent, respectively. Heavy rail ridership increased 76 percent in FY22 over FY21. The RIDE had the smallest increase of 27 percent higher UPT in FY22 than FY21.
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 FY22, a total of 42.9 bus priority miles were active, an increase of over 100 percent from 17.7 miles in FY21.
At the end of FY22, 86 transit priority signals were active, an increase of 6% over FY21. More information on in-progress and upcoming transit priority projects can be found on the MBTA website.
Passenger Benefits from Bus Priority Corridors
The MBTA prioritizes implementing transit priority projects in corridors with high congestion and delay, as well as high ridership, to benefit the most possible passengers. In the spring rating of FY22, 38,000 passenger miles were in bus priority corridors or queue jumps on an average weekday, an increase from 23,000 passenger miles in the spring of FY21. The increase in passenger miles is attributed to higher average ridership as well as Bus Priority project additions, including the Columbus Ave center-running bus lane, Broadway Ave in Revere, and Centre Street in Malden. 38,000 passenger miles equates to 5.7 percent of average weekday passenger miles with direct benefits from bus priority corridors, an increase from 4.6 percent in the spring of FY21.
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. Indirect areas that benefit from priority corridors include a route’s preceding or successive miles from a bus priority lane, as well as the subsequent route a bus may take after completing a trip that includes a bus priority corridor. In the spring rating of FY22, 51 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 30 percent in the spring of FY21. This increase is attributed to a greater number of active bus priority corridors in FY22 compared to the previous FY21.
*Please note that the figures from last year may be different than previously reported due to an update in the process and data availability.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reported as the MBTA’s total GHG emissions in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2e) and 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, which is estimated to be at least four times larger than net emissions.
A new electricity procurement contract supplied by 100 percent renewable energy sources went into effect on January 1, 2021—as a result, the 36 percent of the MBTA’s GHG emissions that typically come from electricity usage have been avoided. In FY22, the MBTA emitted 216 million kg CO2e, a significant decrease from 287 million kg CO2e in FY21, primarily due to being the first full fiscal year with 100% renewable electricity supply. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts aims to reduce GHG emissions by 80 percent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels—the MBTA is on track to exceed that goal. Since 2009 the MBTA has reduced its GHG emissions by 43% and is targeting 50% reduction by 2030 and Net-zero by 2050. The rate of GHG emissions was 1.06 kg CO2e per UPT, a decrease from 2.41 in FY21. This decreased rate of emissions is less than the rate from 2021, 2020, and 2019. Ridership estimates for FY22 may be adjusted slightly in the future.
The fare recovery ratio is the revenue received from fares and passes divided by total operational expenses, excluding expenses due to debt. This measures how much of the cost of providing transit services is paid directly by MBTA riders. The FY22 fare recovery ratio was 19 percent, a noticeable increase from 10.2 percent in FY21 but still significantly lower than 33.5 percent in FY20 and 42.7 percent in FY19 before the pandemic.
Capital Investment Plan (CIP)
The MBTA Capital Investment Plan (CIP) is a rolling five-year investment program to improve and modernize assets, meet strategic priorities and performance goals, and expand service. The annually updated CIP includes over 500 capital projects working to improve reliability, safety, and accessibility for riders. More information on the current CIP and historical updates by fiscal year can be found on the MBTA website.
CIP spend largely funds projects in two broad categories: projects focused on reliability and modernization, and projects focused on expansion of the MBTA system or MBTA service. Major capital projects currently include the Green Line Extension, the Red Line Transformation and Orange Line Transformation programs, South Coast Rail, and Fare Transformation. Total spend in FY22 decreased by $320 million over FY21, with a total of $1.61 billion spent on capital improvement projects. Of the total, $1.11 billion was spent on reliability and modernization projects, with $493 million spent on expansion. Total capital spent was 61 percent of the FY22 programmed amount.
Vehicle derailments are defined as a non-collision event in which one or more wheels of a rail transit vehicle unintentionally leaves the rails. Mainline revenue derailments indicate that the train was accepting passengers when the derailment occurred. Revenue derailments have most frequently occurred as a result of human error. Common issues include improperly setting track switches, failing to ensure switches are properly aligned, and violating red track signals. The Green Line has historically been more susceptible to human error derailments as a result of the diverse travel environments within which Green Line trolleys operate, as well as the fact that several of the automated train and switch controls utilized on heavy rail have yet to be implemented on light rail. The Green Line Train Protection System (GLTPS) has four overlapping phases prior to final implementation and is currently primarily focused on the Equipment Design and Validation Phase. The other three phases include Vehicle Installation, Wayside Installation, and Operational Integration, and are scheduled for completion in 2024. When deployed, the system will reduce the risk of red signal violations, train-to-train collisions, and over-speed derailments by limiting the speed at which the train may operate at specified locations and monitoring the track ahead for obstacles.
Two mainline revenue derailments occurred in 2021, equal to the amount in 2020. Both derailments occurred on the heavy rail.
Total expenses (not including capital spending) encompass wages and benefits for employees, materials and services involved in providing transit service, contracted transit services like commuter rail and the RIDE, other operating expenses, and debt service. Total expenses grew 2.3 percent from FY21 to $2.21 billion in FY22, while operating expenses grew 5.5 percent. Total expenses in the FY23 budget are $2.55 billion, an increase of 8 percent above the FY22 budget baseline.
Total revenues encompass fare revenues from transit riders, other operating revenues such as from advertisements and parking, state and local assistance including sales tax revenue, and other non-operating revenues. Total revenues grew 14.4 percent from FY21 to $3.02 billion in FY22, due to a combination of non-operating sources, additional state and federal assistance, and operating revenues (fares and other operating revenues), which increased by 92.8 percent as ridership began to recover. Total revenue sources in the FY23 budget are $2.3 billion, a 17 percent decrease from the FY22 budget, which had incorporated a one-time federal revenue and fare revenue awarded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bus fleet composition measures the proportions of the MBTA bus fleet that are electric, hybrid, 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 FY22, the MBTA’s roughly 1,300-bus fleet was 0.4 percent electric, 47.6 percent hybrid, 15.4 percent CNG, and 36.5 percent diesel.
Bus fleet composition particularly impacts residents living near bus routes due to criteria air pollutants emitted. While diesel-only buses emit higher levels of criteria air pollutants, alternative fuel buses (including electric, CNG, and hybrid) can mitigate air pollution caused by buses for nearby residents. Of residents living within a quarter mile of MBTA bus routes in FY22, roughly 49 percent were near routes running alternative fuel vehicles, 43 percent were near routes running vehicles of mixed fuel types, and 9 percent were near routes running diesel-only buses. Of low-income households within a quarter mile of MBTA bus routes, roughly 50 percent were near alternative fuel routes, and 8 percent were near diesel-only routes. Of residents of color living near MBTA bus routes, 45 percent were near alternative fuel routes and 8 percent were near diesel-only routes.