MBTA Commuters

A train leaves downtown Attleboro station last June.

The MBTA announced a spring schedule Monday that calls for fewer commuter trains during the morning and evening peak times and more trains during the middle of the day.

Responding to feedback from riders and communities, weeknight service after 9 p.m. will largely remain, particularly where ridership has returned more than in other areas and on transit-critical lines, the MBTA said. Only very late or extremely low ridership trains are being eliminated. Compared to the fall 2019 pre-COVID schedule, there will be roughly 11 percent fewer weekly trains.

“Shifting in part to this model on MBTA Commuter Rail is possible due to the low ridership, and it is beneficial for the MBTA because it provides financial efficiencies as well as increased flexibility to increase service in the future when appropriate,” the MBTA said.

The intent of the changes is to focus on preserving access and matching service to ridership and passenger needs, the MBTA pointed out.

“Travel patterns have changed and will continue to evolve. As we look to the spring, we can be even more efficient with taxpayer dollars while ridership is low and use this time to shift toward a schedule that could be more attractive to future riders,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said. “The intent is to pilot a service model closer to regional rail” that has more regular train schedules and allows flexibility to add trains.

The MBTA last year initiated plans to match service with lower ridership levels resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring access for essential workers and “transit-critical” communities.

Weekend service was partially reduced Jan. 23.

Ridership and community feedback was obtained in virtual forums and other avenues.

“This shift recognizes that fewer and fewer people commute 9 to 5,” said David Scorey, CEO and general manager of Keolis, the company that operates the trains for the MBTA. “We plan to offer a schedule that can attract an entirely new type of rider and offers flexibility to add service when the time is right.”

The Transit is Essential Coalition responded to the announcement by saying it continues to oppose service cuts scheduled to be phased in in March and April.

“Our transit system has been a lifeline for low-income communities throughout the pandemic, and our region is on the road to recovery. To ensure a future with clean air, good jobs within reach, and healthier residents of all ages, we must make transit central to this recovery by continuing to invest in, improve, and expand the system,” the coalition said. “We hope the MBTA will use federal funding and other resources to ensure service is more convenient, affordable, and equitable than before. Any adjustments to service should advance these goals, not shrink the system.

The coalition, made up of 60 organizations, also continues to push for more state financial assistance for mass transit.

Final train schedules will be available in March.

Stephen Peterson can be reached at 508-236-0377.

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