MBTA Ridership Plunges More Than 90 Percent

BOSTON (State House News Service) — With much of the economy shut down and many workers staying home, the MBTA's subway system is currently carrying roughly 8.5 percent of its typical ridership and the peak commuting times have shifted to align with shift changes at health care facilities, General Manager Steve Poftak said Monday.

That drop in ridership is going to impact the T's fiscal year 2020 budget, and the agency is expecting the coronavirus pandemic to punch a $231 million hole in its revenue forecast.

The T's ridership data, which Poftak presented to the Fiscal Management and Control Board on Monday afternoon, only counts gated subway stations but shows that ridership as of April 9 was down about 92.7 percent compared to the week of Feb. 24. Bus ridership, Poftak said, is at about 20 to 22 percent of its usual level and the commuter rail system is serving about 6 to 8 percent of its typical ridership.

"Although ridership is down significantly, there are people who need to use the T and they need to use it on a daily basis for some of the important necessities of life and our health care workforce is using the T to get to and from work," he said. "It's really a tribute to our workforce, that they have continued to come to work, that they continue to move people to the places where they need to go. And I just want to offer my thanks to the workforce for the great job that they've done under very difficult circumstances."

The Silver Line, which is a popular way to get to Logan Airport, has seen the greatest drop in ridership with a decline of 96.2 percent over late February, followed by the Green Line with a 94.8 percent drop. The Red Line has seen a 92.8 percent decline in ridership and on the Orange Line it has declined by 92.3 percent. The Blue Line has been the T's "most durable" line, with a ridership drop of 89.1 percent.

Poftak said the subway system's peak hours have moved. Instead of a morning peak around 8:30 a.m. and an evening peak at 5:30 p.m., he said the T's peaks now fall between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., and 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., more in line with the hours typically kept by health care workers.

"I think it's safe to assume we are carrying a number of people who are working at health care facilities and obviously providing an essential service at this point in time," Poftak said.

Of course, the drop in ridership is translating into a decline in revenue. Commuter rail ticket purchases via the mTicket app were down 99 percent over a normal weekday as of April 3, parking revenue was down 95 percent from a normal weekday and revenue from fare vending machines was down 82 percent, Poftak said.

"Obviously, it's had a dramatic impact" on the T's budget, he said. "We talked about a $30 to $35 million impact in March -- it's going to be significantly more in April and May. And we have been thinking about what that impact will be and how we respond to it."

Fares were expected to represent about a third of all revenue in the T's $2.1 billion fiscal year 2020 budget.

The T's chief financial officer, Mary Ann O'Hara, told the board Monday that the agency's latest modeling predicts the T will generate $231.1 million less in revenue than it had been expecting. She said the difference in fare revenue is expected to be a decline of $196.5 million, based on a 50 percent ridership drop in March and 95 percent declines in April, May and June.

"The key point here is that the next few months we expect ridership levels to level off the low levels, and our fare and own-source revenue will continue to be low," she said. "And that $230 million dollars is a significant and dramatic drop to our revenue projections."

O'Hara said the T is expecting to receiving about $840 million for COVID-19 impacts in FY20 and FY21 from the federal CARES Act, and that her office will continuously monitor ridership levels and revenue sources.

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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