Remember the winter of 2015?
More than 100 inches of snow fell on Boston over a six-week period, paralyzing the region in a white blanket.
The MBTA was, literally, in over its head.
Local residents will remember the sight of shivering commuters waiting in vain for trains that were unable to negotiate the clogged tracks. Thousands were unable to make their daily commute to their jobs or schools.
Frustrations were as high as the snow banks.
As today’s front-page story by veteran Staff Writer Jim Hand explains, local commuters remain unsatisfied with the T. The service is still far from reliable, there aren’t enough trains, especially on nights, afternoons and weekends, and collecting fares — and seeing some commuters ride for free while others pay — remains an issue.
But even critics acknowledge there have been improvements.
Keolis says its on-time performance has inched up from 87 percent to 89 percent over the past three years, and the addition of more conductors and better signaling will continue that upward track. The additional conductors have also reduced fare evasion — to be fair, it’s actually a failure to collect by Keolis — and modernization of the collection process is expected to be completed in a few years.
“It’s getting incrementally better,” Chris Dempsey of the transit watchdog group Transportation for Massachusetts told The Sun Chronicle.
“The MBTA has gotten better,” said Charles Chieppo of the conservative Pioneer Institute.
And, we’re happy to report, the improvements look like they might continue.
The state Department of Transportation is about a year into a study of how to best use the rail network, shuffling through dozens of proposals to not only improve service but make it more robust and better accommodating to commuters from Lawrence to Providence to Plymouth.
The big decision will come in four years when the regional transit agency will award a contract to operate commuter rail. The contract for Keolis Commuter Services, the French company that took on the job in 2014, expires in 2022, and the Baker administration has already said it doesn’t intend to extend the contract under its current terms.
What direction the MBTA will take on commuter rail — such as much desired albeit expensive improvements and expansion — will heavily impact this area. The MBTA has four local commuter rail stations — in Attleboro, South Attleboro, Mansfield, Norfolk, with a pilot program planned at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro — which hauls thousands of commuters to work or school in Boston daily. Plans are also in the works to open one at the Pawtucket-Central Falls line.
Gov. Charlie Baker has made improving the MBTA a top priority, and with good reason. Not only does it affect thousands of jobs and the regional economy, a smooth-running public transportation network entices drivers off the highways, curtailing traffic and reducing emissions.
It has been a monumental task. As Chieppo from the Pioneer Institute put it, “It’s a classic case of turning around the Titanic.”
Well, we all know how that story ended, and we don’t see that bleak a future for the MBTA’s commuter rail system.
We’ve also seen incremental improvements, we’re thankful that public transportation appears to be near the top of the agenda for the state and we’re eager to see the state’s commuter rail study, due out later this year.
In short, it appears the T is headed in the right direction.