If you’re an ABRHS student, have been to Boston at least once in your life, and are reading this article, you’re probably familiar with the T, the go-to train agency for group trips to Beantown and history extra credit assignments. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has long been Boston’s center of transportation, allowing millions of commuters to get to work over its 126-year lifespan. But recently, while the system regularly carries upwards of 700,000 riders daily, it has been plagued by numerous issues that have made traveling on the MBTA both unreliable and unpleasant.
One of the most pertinent issues facing the MBTA in recent months has been the frequent shutdowns and delays on the Commuter Rail, buses, and subways. To continue providing access to transportation, the agency implements slow, overcrowded buses that are free for riders. Especially during the COVID pandemic, when concerns arose over contracting the potentially deadly coronavirus, riders feared being in close proximity with passengers on the shuttles as well as the underground trains, which often suffer from insufficient ventilation. As a result, the MBTA experienced record low ridership throughout the pandemic, and the shuttles drained the agency of funding necessary for repairs. In fact, even today, the average weekday ridership on the bus and subway is still only 58 percent of what it was before the rise of COVID. Currently, the shuttles are still in operation, and as passengers begin to return to the pre-pandemic routine, they are raising concerns about the lack of space on the vehicles and hope that the buses and subway systems will return to pristine condition in the near future.
Although trains are less crowded than shuttle buses, they are unreliable in terms of safety and timing. They are frequently late by up to forty minutes with no updates being posted on the MBTA’s website, leaving commuters waiting on platforms for extended periods of time and causing them to miss appointments and arrive late to work. On the other hand, in 2017, a train company in Tokyo formally apologized after one of its trains departed from a station twenty seconds early. Additionally, passengers raise concerns surrounding safety. Last summer, an Orange Line train derailed and another one set on fire over a bridge. Consequently, the entire Orange Line was shut down for 30 days of repairs. More recently, a ceiling panel came crashing down from the ceiling of Harvard station and nearly crushed a rider. Additionally, two men died in 2022 at the hands of the outdated system: the first man fell through rusted stairs and the second got stuck between closing doors. Ultimately, many riders are fearing for their lives when on the premises of these stations. However, metro stations in other countries, particularly in East Asian cities like Shanghai and Singapore, include screen doors which shield riders from the tracks and open only when a train has arrived. Station improvements will be necessary for the MBTA to earn riders’ trust again.
While these issues are certainly frustrating for commuters, they can’t just be fixed immediately; the MBTA is also facing a lack of sufficient funding. Budget cuts in recent years have forced the system to reduce its overall quality and increase fares for riders. Additionally, the lack of adequate funding results in the maintenance and upkeep issues at stations and on trains, further decreasing the reliability and safety of the system. However, some Massachusetts officials have demonstrated a desire to provide more funding for the MBTA; for example, Boston mayor Michelle Wu, with her “Free the T” campaign, has been fighting to get enough funding to the T so that one day, it might be fare-free.
The MBTA plays a vital role in the transportation infrastructure of the Boston area, and it is in dire need of improvement. From frequent shutdowns and unreliable service to funding shortcomings and commuter safety, the system faces countless problems that make it difficult for people to trust and utilize the system. In the future, hopefully, the MBTA will have the proper funding to provide a safe, efficient, and reliable transportation system for the people of Massachusetts.