Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Since the Red Line derailed at the JFK / UMass station on June 11, Boston-area commuters' frustrations with their subway commutes have reached new highs. The timing of the derailment could not have been worse for the MBTA, just a few weeks before a 6.7% fare increase that went into effect on July 1st. The irony of having to pay more for worsening and unsafe service has captured the attention of key politicians and the Boston Globe's front page. Last week, two Globe reporters wrote about their Red Line commutes with one announcing that she is now a “Red Line defector” while Larry Edelman offers that, while he’s mad about the deterioration in service, he’s adjusted his commute times and continues riding the Red Line.
To better assess the impact of the derailment on the Boston-area workforce, we sought the opinion of the roughly 1,200 working professionals who take part in the Green Streets Commuter Challenge every month. Our participants represent large and small employers in the Boston-area, including Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston University, Lesley University and many others. Collectively the employers taking part in the Commuter Challenge employ over 30,000.
While 30% of our commuters take one of the MBTA subway lines, 45% of all commuters surveyed at the end of June reported being impacted by the Red Line derailment. Many Red Line riders used other modes thereby increasing congestion on roads or contributing to crowding on buses, shuttles and commuter rails. Across all commuters, 16% experienced delays of more than 20 minutes, 17% lost 10 to 20 minutes of time and 12% reported a small impact, with delays of fewer than 10 minutes.
Cambridge commuters were more impacted by the derailment compared to Boston’s, with 19% of commuters who work in Cambridge reporting an increase in commute times of more than 20 minutes (vs. 12% in Boston).
Among subway (T) commuters, 70% reported delays of more than ten minutes. Cambridge T riders were much more impacted by the Red Line’s issues compared to Boston T riders; almost half of Cambridge T riders reported increased commutes of more than 20 minutes (vs. 25% in Boston). The Red Line is the primary transit artery for those commuting into Cambridge, especially for those working in the Central Square / Harvard Square area. An incident like this shows how vulnerable those who work and live in Cambridge are to the daily performance of the Red Line. Cambridge employers should be outraged to see their talented staff lose time and energy due to their frustrating and delayed commute. The Green Line extension cannot come soon enough.
Applying these survey statistics to Cambridge and Boston workforces brings the cost of the derailment to employers at around $2 million a day in Cambridge and $3 million in Boston, based on average salary and workforce numbers. Over a few days, these productivity losses amount to the same revenue generated by the new Encore Casino during opening week. Businesses notice these types of incidents; they factor into decisions to locate in the Boston-area and threaten the economy’s continued vibrancy. The State needs to take into account these economic losses when making MBTA budget decisions.
It's unfortunate that attitudes towards the MBTA have become so negative and that being a “Red Line Defector” is now “a thing”. Greater Boston, like other urban regions, needs public transportation more than ever to improve accessibility to jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The challenge is one of timing, funding and logistics - can the MBTA modernize fast enough to meet the needs of an expanding workforce that is increasingly losing patience with the T.