MBTA Approves Short-Term Service Cuts


14.December, Boston MA {MBTA Press Release, lightly edited} – Today the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) approved a series of revised short-term service changes for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) that incorporate recent public input and additional analysis of ridership. These service changes help match service levels with current and near-term low ridership demand and are for FY21 only, which ends on 30.June.2021, as service levels for FY22 will be planned during the budget process this spring.

Given the importance of adjusting base service levels for the current fiscal year, while ridership continues to remain low relative to the amount of service being provided, the MBTA is accelerating adjustments so that new commuter rail and ferry schedules can be implemented in January and new bus and rapid transit schedules can be implemented in March.

“We recognize the importance of adjusting service levels now while ridership demand is low, so that we can use the savings to increase service frequency when it is needed. These changes in service levels have also been designed to minimize impacts on current transit-critical travelers, meaning that changes in rapid transit frequency, for example, will mean that individuals are waiting only an additional ninety seconds for a train,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak.

As a result of the decline in ridership impacting transit agencies across the country, the MBTA continues to only transport 330,000 trips on an average weekday, but operates the same high levels of service as it ran to serve 1.26 million daily trips prior to the pandemic – an unsustainable level of service delivery.

Due to important public feedback and additional analysis of ridership demand, several adjustments have been made to the earlier proposed service changes that were today approved by the FMCB. Notable changes include that partial Hingham/Hull ferry service will be preserved (original proposal: suspended), partial weekend service will operate on Commuter Rail lines with high ridership and deemed transit critical (original proposal: total weekend suspension), the Green Line E Branch will continue to serve all E Branch stations (original proposal: complete service suspension of the E Branch Brigham Circle- Heath Street), and there will be no changes to the hours of operation for buses and subway lines (original proposal: ending service at midnight). Additionally, based on feedback received from the FMCB today, Commuter Rail weekday schedules will be adjusted to optimize service span with MBTA staff returning to the Board in January 2021 following further analysis (original proposal: ending weekday service at 9 p.m.).

Some service changes on the Commuter Rail and ferry will take place as early as January 2021 and additional changes to Commuter Rail service will also be made in March/April 2021. Changes to rapid transit and bus service will take place in phases with some changes made in March/April 2021 and others taking effect in June/July 2021.

The original service change proposals were released on 09.November and were followed by a comprehensive public engagement process. The MBTA is greatly appreciative to have received over 6,700 comments. Consistent with feedback from the public and stakeholders, the Base Service proposal was expanded to preserve additional services, and access and span were prioritized.

Changes in service effective dates:

Commuter Rail:

The Commuter Rail is experiencing approximately 13% of its pre-COVID ridership, with about 8.5% of its normal ridership during morning peak periods.

Reduced Winter Commuter Rail schedules will take effect in January 2021.  Weekend service will be eliminated on Haverhill, Lowell, Fitchburg, Needham, Franklin, Plymouth and Greenbush lines.  Some weekend service will remain on the Worcester, Providence, Newburyport/Rockport, Middleborough, and Fairmount lines.

Starting mostly in March/April 2021, we plan to:

  • End weekday service at 9 PM, pending further analysis
  • Reduce peak and weekday service
  • Weekday schedules will be adjusted to optimize service span.
  • Close five (out of 141) stations based on low ridership, operational impacts, and availability of alternatives:
    • Plimptonville
    • Prides Crossing
    • Silver Hill
    • Hastings
    • Plymouth
    • Cedar Park Station, which was proposed to close in the previous service change proposals, will continue to be served.

This plan maintains up to 70% of pre-pandemic service levels. Weekday service levels will be further optimized and shared with the board in January 2021.

MBTA staff will return to the FMCB in January 2021 after further analysis and to outline updated weekday schedule proposals.

Rapid Transit:

Taking effect March/April 2021:

  • Reduce frequency by 20 percent on the Red, Orange, and Green Lines.
  • Reduce frequency by up to 5 percent on the Blue Line.

Taking effect in June/July 2021:

  • Potential further frequency adjustments pending social distancing.
  • Reviews of the Blue Line for potential service adjustments.

Potential changes beyond July 2021 pending ridership:

  • Additional Green Line frequency changes with the opening of the Green Line Extension.


  • Service hours will not change and all lines will continue to operate after midnight.
  • The Green Line E Branch will continue to serve all E Branch stations.


Taking effect March/April 2021:

  • Eighty essential bus routes will see a system-wide average change in service of just 5 percent and routes with high ridership will not be changed. Sixty non-essential bus routes will operate 20 percent less frequently on average system-wide.
  • Twenty routes will be suspended.
  • Sixteen routes will be consolidated and four routes will be shortened.
  • Service hours will not change and all routes will continue to operate after midnight.
    Suburban subsidies to five communities will continue.


  • Taking effect in January 2021:
  • Charlestown and Hingham direct service will be suspended.
  • Weekday Hingham/Hull service will operate with reduced frequency.


Service restoration:

The timing of service restoration will depend on public health guidance (including guidance on the continued need for social distancing) and the timing of the Commonwealth’s post-vaccination re-opening plan. The MBTA continues to discuss how the MBTA will re-add, rebuild, and increase service with planning scenarios continuing to be refined and revised as necessary. Ridership will be monitored with MBTA staff returning to the FMCB every month to show where ridership stands compared to the scenarios. Other data sources will also be monitored, including passenger surveys, employer surveys, roadway data, general travel data, and economic recovery planning. FY22 service levels will be planned beginning in February/March 2021 as part of FY22 budget process.

For a full and complete listing of all upcoming changes in service, including all changes to bus routes, please visit www.mbta.com/ForgingAhead.

{MBTA Press Release, December 14 2020}

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Associate Editor; Consultant for Rail Planning & Development
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Christopher has 15 years of railroad experience, starting as a Conductor on Cape Cod and 15 years of public policy advocacy and outreach work. Christopher is Executive Director of Vermont Rail Action Network, communicating the vision of better trains to elected and government officials, community leaders and the public. Christopher is a consultant for freight and passenger planning and development projects including operating planning, federal grant applications, marketing, and public outreach.