At every meeting leading up to the Sumner Tunnel restoration project that began earlier this month, MassDOT officials promised they were coordinating with the MBTA to ensure public transit options and that the T was committed to uninterrupted Blue Line service.
At a time when elected officials have been demanding increased Blue Line service during the Sumner Tunnel project the MBTA and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) dropped a bombshell last week.
Last Thursday, the MBTA announced weekday subway service changes that took effect Monday on the Blue Line as well as the Red and Orange Lines.
MBTA officials said these changes are the result of staffing challenges among the ranks of subway dispatchers in the MBTA’s Operations Control Center. With a limited number of dispatchers, the service changes will allow the MBTA to schedule dispatchers in compliance with new FTA directives after an investigation into a recent spate of derailments, crashes and railroad crossing accidents.
On Monday, Blue Line weekday trains began operating every seven minutes until 9 a.m. and every eight to nine minutes for the rest of the day. Blue Line weekday summer service is typically five minutes between trains during morning and evening peak periods, every nine to 10 minutes between trains in the mid-day mornings, and every five to six minutes between trains in the mid-day afternoons.
Red Line weekday trains began operating every 14 to 15 minutes on both the Ashmont and Braintree branches and seven to eight minutes between trains on the “trunk” of the Red Line between Alewife and JFK/UMass stations.
According to the MBTA Red Line weekday summer service is typically nine to 10 minutes between trains during morning and evening peak periods, 10 to 12 minutes between trains during off-peak hours, and every five to six minutes between trains on the “trunk” of the Red Line between Alewife and JFK/UMass stations.
The MBTA said the Blue Line volume was about 44% below pre-Covid ridership levels according to data collected last week and the Red Line remained approximately 50% below pre-pandemic levels.
Last week, Mayor Michelle Wu sent a letter to MassDOT that was signed by local elected officials in the area. The letter called for a plan to be put in place to increase capacity on the Blue Line when needed, especially during the full shutdown of the Sumner Tunnel in 2023.
In a statement last week the MBTA said it is exploring multiple options to add capacity at the Control Center, including an aggressive recruitment campaign, offering bonuses, and potentially hiring back former dispatchers.
“If dispatch capacity permits, there may be days when the MBTA can increase the number of trains in service,” said the statement. “And as soon as sufficient dispatch capacity exists, the MBTA will revert to its previous level of service.”
There is one exception to the revised summer schedule. In the afternoon and evening of Monday, July 4, the MBTA will provide regular weekday service in order to accommodate people attending Independence Day festivities.