MBTA to face distancing challenges should state begin to reopen

BOSTON (WHDH) - Commuter concerns about how the MBTA will handle a sudden spike in ridership are cropping up across the Bay State as Gov. Charlie Baker mulls beginning the state’s phased reopening process on Monday.

Will the trains be packed once again? How will the MBTA deal with break downs and cancellations that force riders to pile onto later trains? These are questions plaguing commuters concerned about what things might look like when people start heading back to work.

“My concern is when we get back to normal is someone going to sit next to me I a scared about that right now,” commuter Lucy Crespo said.

Transportation officials said they are still working to find answers to those questions.

“I do not know if anyone has figured out how to actually logistically and equitably run a socially distance transit system,” Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

At a meeting earlier in the week, MBTA General Manager Stephan Poftak outlined some potential plans for moving forward should the state start opening back up on Monday.

“Could we incentivize switching from over-crowding routes to where we have excess capacity,” he mused.

Other ideas include:

  • Alternative methods of transportation to reduce crowding
  • Talking to business leaders to allow telecommuting and flexible work hours
  • A way to communicate with riders which vehicles are crowded and when they anticipate them not to be crowded

However, some serious challenges are still standing in the way, such as having enough T employees on hand to keep the system running.

Right now, more than 450 employees are out on COVID-19 related leave.

Vehicle capacity provides another challenge — how many riders can fit on a train or subway before it is “too” crowded?

Poftak said most of the work the MBTA does is not visible to the public and they want to change that.

“I think it’s an important part of the challenge as people think about taking public transportation again is making sure they know exactly what we are doing to keep the system clean and keeping it safe,” he said.

The MBTA plans to make an announcement regarding these plans next week.

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