FOXBORO — Commuter rail ridership on a new service from Gillette Stadium has been less than expected in its first seven weeks of operation, but officials say the pilot program needs more time.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation said Thursday that an average of 70 people per day are using the station outside the stadium.
There are 10 round trips between Foxboro and Boston each weekday.
A report issued before the service began Oct. 21 estimated ridership would be about 210 people per day.
“Foxboro Station customer counts for the month of November show an approximate weekday average of 70 boardings and 70 alightings,” spokeswoman Lisa Battiston said. “Given that the Foxboro pilot service is less than two months old, it’s too early to determine if or when the pilot would be made permanent, though staff continues to closely monitor the pilot’s progress,” she said.
The pilot program is scheduled to run for one year before a decision is made on whether to make the service permanent.
But state Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, who was opposed to starting service to and from Gillette Stadium from the beginning, said the numbers show it is unnecessary and costly.
Dooley had pointed out that Foxboro is surrounded by existing rail stations and the money spent on Foxboro Station was needed elsewhere. He joked that it would be cheaper to drive the 70 people in limousines from Foxboro to Boston.
Furthermore, he said, many of the 70 Foxboro riders were already taking the train from a different station, so the new stop is doing nothing to reduce traffic congestion.
Foxboro Station is off a spur line that connects to other lines. Opening the new station involved making improvements to the tracks and other infrastructure.
The Kraft Group, which owns the stadium and the New England Patriots, had long advocated for the train to its property and is subsidizing a portion of the operating costs. A report for the state estimated the operation costs would be $1.68 million a year.
Dooley said infrastructure improvements cost between $40 million and $50 million, but the MBTA said a full "build up" to a permanent service would cost less than $40 million in improvements.
State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, who was an early supporter of the Foxboro station, was among those preaching patience. “Traffic continues to be a nightmare traveling to and from Boston. The train is a great option and we are very fortunate to have this available. Once more people realize the option I am confident usage will increase,” he said.
Barrows said he is not concerned with the ridership numbers yet because it is early in the process. He said officials have to continue spreading the word about the new service and to market the train from Boston to Foxboro as a way for employees to get to work at Patriot Place.
Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, a member of the Joint Committee on Transportation, said the Foxboro Station pilot program has not been a subject of any of the panel’s hearings thus far.
He said it needs more time before it can be determined if the service should continue. “The numbers are a little bit disappointing, but with anything new, it takes time,” he said.
Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @TSCpolitics.