Precipitous drop in MBTA ridership speeds repairs on Blue Line

BOSTON (AP/WHDH) — A precipitous drop in public transit ridership due to COVID-19 concerns has given the MBTA a chance to accelerate some previously planned upgrades, Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference Wednesday.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is finishing a Blue Line subway upgrade originally slated to occur over 12 to 14 weekends later this year in a 14-day period scheduled to wrap up Sunday in part because plunging ridership allowed them to replace subway trains with shuttle buses.

The work includes replacing 2,200 feet of track between the Maverick and Aquarium stops and address leaking problems which Baker said will help reduce delays on the portion of the track that runs under the Boston Harbor.

“This Blue Line work is part of our administration’s plan to invest $8 billion in a safer and more reliable MBTA by replacing over 400 cars across the Red and Orange Lines, modernizing stations, and upgrading track, signal, and other key infrastructure across the system,” Baker said. “These infrastructure upgrades on the Blue Line, including important flood resilience work within the harbor tunnel, will provide faster, more reliable service for travelers and commuters.”

The drop in ridership is also helping speed work on the Lowell commuter rail as part of construction of the Green Line extension project, Baker said.

At the same time the transit agency is taking steps to ensure safety for riders and workers increasing cleaning and sanitizing protocols, requiring rear door boarding on buses and using public message campaigns to remind riders to wear masks or other facial coverings, which are required on public transit.

Additionally, in an effort to promote social distancing and protect the health and safety of MBTA riders and bus operators, ridership on shuttle buses has been limited to 20 passengers. The MBTA is also operating additional shuttle buses than originally planned with a robust fleet of shuttles on standby to accommodate ridership demands as needed.

“Our primary focus, as always, is on safety, especially during the pandemic and the start of Phase 1 of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said. “We continue to promote social distancing and require face coverings. While we know these diversions can be an inconvenience in the short-term, we appreciate the understanding of our riders as we expedite critical track and tunnel infrastructure work that leads to the upgrades our riders deserve – faster trains, shorter travel times, and more reliable service.”

Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack noted that MBTA is planning to get more work done at a faster rate in 2020.

“While we continue to urge the public to only make essential trips during the pandemic, the T is moving ahead with capital projects and continuing to plan for more opportunities to get work done faster in 2020,” Pollack said.

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