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Behind the scenes with MBTA data.

The COVID-19 pandemic obviously continues to have great impacts on MBTA ridership. In the past few weeks we have kept you updated on these pages, and we plan to keep updating the blog weekly as long as there is something to discuss. This post focuses on ridership on subway and bus during the last week; you can read previous posts here and here.

If you’re just looking for the total ridership by line and by station, you can download that data here (Last updated 4/14):

Validations by Line [csv]

Validations by Station [csv]

We would like to reiterate that Governor Baker has issued a stay-at-home order, non-essential business are closed, and we would implore our riders to respect this and stay at home whenever possible. In the Governor’s words: “Just because the T is open does not mean we think it’s a good idea to take the train downtown to meet up with friends.

By limiting the use of public transportation to essential activities, we will not only slow the spread of the virus – but we will better protect our health care workers, grocery store workers and others who are working every day to keep us safe.

Everyone is advised to stay at home and limit all unnecessary activities.”

Please see the continuously-updated page here for the latest updates on how the MBTA is responding to the pandemic: www.mbta.com/covid-19

The Data

Our usual ridership reporting includes factors to account for passengers who we do not observe through our automated equipment, and we usually wait at least a few weeks before reporting anything due to the delay in transferring data from our vehicles. We also conduct in-person counts to verify automated data and improve accuracy for our end of year reporting. 

We did not have time to do our normal analysis and reporting, so we had to focus on the best sources we have that were reasonably representative of the system. So we focused on two data sources for this post: Counts of validations at gated stations from the fare collection system and bus ridership estimates from automated passenger counters. Because these sources usually have extra processing and QA/QC done as noted in the previous paragraph, all ridership estimates in this post should be considered very preliminary and subject to change.

Rapid Transit

To examine ridership on the rapid transit system, we used validations (taps or ticket insertions) at the 64 gated stations in the MBTA system. This data came from the fare collection system and is not adjusted to account for passengers who enter the gates without interacting with the equipment (this can be children, fare evaders, or people who enter when the gates aren’t functioning).

We set up a special data transfer to gather the total validations by day, and then grouped them by station and by line. For stations where passengers can board multiple lines, we use a rough “split” factor to assign riders to each line (For example, at Park St, we estimate that 54% of people entering the gates are then going to board the Red Line, and 46% go on to board the Green Line).

Last week, ridership ended its drop at about the same time as non-essential businesses closed and has been largely steady since then. The below chart shows the validations per day for the last two weeks, including weekends. On the second axis, we show the percent of our baseline “normal” week this is. Note that for the baseline Saturday and Sunday comparison, we excluded the Orange Line data for the weekends of 2/1 and 2/15 when multiple stations were closed for track work and the gates on the remaining stations were left open on purpose. 

The validations per day for the last two weeks, including weekends

By the end of the week, the number of validations remained close to the same for three consecutive days, suggesting that indeed, travel had been minimized and was about 10-11% of “normal.” On weekends, validations had dropped less, but were still 14-16% of the average comparable weekend in February.

Bus

Overall bus ridership shows similar trends as gated stations, though the drop is less steep. After Tuesday, ridership became fairly steady, as while we estimate some change day-to-day, there is a moderate margin of error on all the estimates. Some of the challenges in the data are accounting for buses with lower samples of APCs, and accounting for additional trips that were added which were not part of the schedule programmed into the software on-board buses (“run-as-directed” trips). 

Ridership in the second half of last week remained steady at around 90,000 passenger trips per day. 

Bus ridership in March 2020

Here are the top 20 routes by ridership and their change from our baseline week. The geographic trend in ridership change is similar to previous weeks.

The top 20 routes by ridership and their change from our baseline week.

Ridership by Time of Day

With so many people who normally commute during peak hours staying home, the very nature of the “peak” has changed. We decided to look at how ridership has changed over the course of the day. This is not only interesting, but also helps inform MBTA operations so they can ensure we are scheduling enough service to maintain physical distance for essential passengers.

The following charts show validations at gated stations, sorted by line and grouped by half hour period, for an average weekday in our “baseline” week of February 24, 2020, and the same data for March 24 through March 27, 2020.

 Validations at gated stations, sorted by line and grouped by half hour period, for an average weekday in our “baseline” week of February 24, 2020

Validations at gated stations, sorted by line and grouped by half hour period, for an average weekday in the week of March 24, 2020

In the first image, showing “normal” ridership, we see significant, defined peaks on every line. Roughly 30,000 validations occurred during both the 8:00-8:30 AM period and the 5:00-5:30 PM period. We also see a smaller peak at around 3 PM when school gets out, especially on the Orange Line. You may notice the Green Line has more validations later in the day – this is because riders on the Green Line tend to live on the above-ground portion and work on the subway portion, so we capture fewer of the taps in the morning for regular commuters.

The second image from last week still shows two peak periods, but they are less defined and occur earlier than our usual peaks. In the morning we are seeing the most taps in the period from 7-7:30 AM, and nearly as many in the 6-6:30 AM period, while the 8-8:30 period has fewer validations. In the afternoon, we’re seeing a peak from 3-4:30 PM, rather than our usual peak at 5 PM. While we are not experts on health care, this seems to correspond with the traditional 3 PM and 7 PM shift change times at hospitals. Looking at the stations that are closest to major hospitals gives us a further clue. Here is the chart for March 24-27, selecting just Charles/MGH (in red), Bowdoin (blue) and Tufts Medical Center (orange):

Validation chart for March 24-27, selecting just Charles/MGH (in red), Bowdoin (blue) and Tufts Medical Center (orange)

While the MBTA is currently running a Saturday schedule, we have used this information to add additional service at times of higher demand in order to provide enough space for essential workers to ride and maintain physical distancing. We will continue collecting these data and using it to make service decisions as we continue our response to the crisis.  

 

 

At the request of the Massachusetts Legislature (Bill H.4828, Chapter 204 of the Acts of 2018), the MassDOT Office of Performance Management and Innovation (OPMI) has conducted a comprehensive review of MBTA Commuter Rail fares, and we are pleased to share our report from this study. The report identifies the principles that are currently used to set Commuter Rail fares, analyzes the existing fares in the context of MBTA fare policy objectives, and makes recommendations for the MBTA.

You can read the report here.

The team conducting the study gathered and analyzed data from a variety of sources to explore the fares for each station and zone. We looked at factors including ridership, travel distance, parking capacity and pricing, walkability, travel times and costs for different modes, nearby population and jobs, and station area demographics. The report describes the sources we used and the assumptions we made to develop general station- and zone-level summaries; however, the impact of fares on individual riders or communities can vary dramatically depending on location, travel needs, personal preferences, the availability and cost of travel alternatives, and many other case-specific factors. In order to allow readers to see the detailed data behind the summaries in the report and to look at alternative assumptions that might apply better to specific circumstances, we are providing a table of station-level data gathered for the study. You can download that station-level data here.

COVID-19 and the response to it are having far-reaching impacts throughout society, and the MBTA is no exception. Here at OPMI, we are working hard to analyze its impacts on ridership, performance, and other aspects of the T and the transportation system. Last week, we posted about how the pandemic is affecting ridership, and provided daily updates in that post. Apart from informing the public, this work is also helping the MBTA make service decisions about where extra service is needed in order to keep our passengers and employees safe. This post looks back at the week of 3/16, when major changes in ridership began to occur.

While we are trying to match service with demand, we should remind everyone that Governor Baker has issued a stay at home advisory and ordered all non-essential businesses to be closed. In his words: "Just because the T is open does not mean we think it’s a good idea to take the train downtown to meet up with friends. 

By limiting the use of public transportation to essential activities, we will not only slow the spread of the virus – but we will better protect our health care workers, grocery store workers and others who are working every day to keep us safe. 

Everyone is advised to stay at home and limit all unnecessary activities."

Please see the continuously-updated page here for the latest updates on how the MBTA is responding to the pandemic: www.mbta.com/covid-19

The Data

Our usual ridership reporting includes factors to account for passengers who we do not observe through our automated equipment, and we usually wait at least a few weeks before reporting anything due to the delay in transferring data from our vehicles. We also conduct in-person counts to verify automated data and improve accuracy for our end of year reporting. 

We did not have time to do our normal analysis and reporting, so we had to focus on the best sources we have that were reasonably representative of the system. So we focused on three data sources for this post: Counts of validations at gated stations from the fare collection system, bus ridership estimates from automated passenger counters, and mTicket activations to get an idea of ridership on commuter rail. Because all of these sources usually have extra processing and QA/QC done as noted in the previous paragraph, all ridership estimates in this post should be considered very preliminary and subject to change.

Gated Stations

To examine ridership on the rapid transit system, we used validations (taps or ticket insertions) at the 64 gated stations in the MBTA system. This data came from the fare collection system and is not adjusted to account for passengers who enter the gates without interacting with the equipment (this can be children, fare evaders, or people who enter when the gates aren’t functioning). 

We set up a special data transfer to gather the total validations by day, and then grouped them by station and by line. For stations where passengers can board multiple lines, we use a rough “split” factor to assign riders to each line (For example, at Park St, we estimate that 54% of people entering the gates are then going to board the Red Line, and 46% go on to board the Green Line).

The below chart shows the total taps by line since March 1:

 

To show these data a different way, see the below table. We’ve chosen the week of 2/24-2/28 as a “normal” comparison week and calculated the percentage change last week from that point. You can also download these data as CSV files at the end of this section.

Line Average week of 2/24 Change 3/18 Change 3/19 Change 3/20*
Blue Line 47,344 -66% -72% -69%
Green Line 75,007 -84% -86% -86%
Orange Line 155,749 -78% -82% -83%
Red Line 199,146 -82% -84% -84%
Silver Line 4,990 -88% -90% -91%
Total 482,235 -79% -83% -83%

*3/20 data does not include validations at Malden Center due to a data issue

The major impacts of the pandemic and shutdown are clear from the above. Importantly, though, the change in ridership was not uniform. You can see from the above that the Blue Line was roughly 70% less busy than normal by the end of the week, while the Silver Line’s gated stations had lost over 90% of their usual passengers. There were other differences when you break ridership down by station.

Stations with the largest and smallest changes are listed below:

Largest change:

Station Change from week of 2/24 to Friday, 3/20
World Trade Center -93%
Kendall/MIT -92%
Courthouse -92%
Arlington -90%
Davis -90%
South Station -90%
Science Park -89%

Smallest change:

Station Change from week of 2/24 to Friday, 3/20
Wood Island -57%
Revere Beach -59%
Andrew -61%
Fields Corner -65%
Airport -66%
Maverick -67%
Beachmont -67%

As you can see, stations where much of the ridership comes from a nearby college, or tends to be more white-collar, had a larger drop, while much of the Blue Line had a much smaller drop.

Download more data here (These files are updated periodically. Last update: 3/31/20):

Gated Stations by Line [csv]

Gated Stations by Station [csv]

More recent data is available for download here.

Bus Ridership

The above chart shows total ridership by day as estimated from the APCs on board buses. The more recent dates here have less precision than the earlier dates, but we are fairly confident in these totals. You can see that the overall drop in bus ridership was significant but more modest – roughly a 69% drop from the week of 2/24 through last week (comparing weekdays). You can see the differences by route in the below chart of the top 20 routes:

 

As with the gated stations, you can see a fairly wide range in the level of change depending on the route. Without doing a detailed analysis, it seems plausible that as you might expect, routes where more riders are able to take time off, work from home, and self-isolate saw a larger drop in ridership. We will keep an eye on these trends as the response to COVID-19 continues.

Commuter Rail

While we don’t have detailed ridership from commuter rail on a daily basis, we took a look at the number of activations and purchases on the mTicket app as a proxy for total riders. mTicket activations were at about 3% of their normal amount by the end of the week, although ridership is likely somewhat higher since mTicket usage is made up of more occasional riders.

The RIDE

For the RIDE, we have very detailed data as each completed trip is recorded in the RIDE’s software. We compared the trips taken last week to the average daily trips taken the week of 2/24 and found the following:

Date Trips Taken Change from week of 2/24
3/13 2,220 -58%
3/14 1,647  -69% 
3/15  1,542  -71% 
3/16  1,544  -71% 

Conclusion

Understanding that a significant number of people continue to rely on the MBTA, we will keep a close eye on ridership levels and as always, learn what we can from them to continue making data-driven decisions that best address our customers’ needs.  Safety for customers and employees is, and always will be, at the forefront of our decision-making.