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MBTA to share crowding information, Uber trips were up in 2019, and other transportation notes

The MBTA's goal is to run service at levels to provide enough room in its vehicles for riders to maintain social distance.
The MBTA's goal is to run service at levels to provide enough room in its vehicles for riders to maintain social distance.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/file

After three months of reduced service amid the coronavirus pandemic, the MBTA will begin running more trains and buses this week as ridership — still way below normal levels — begins to rebound. It won’t be full service on most lines, but commuter trains will be back to about 85 percent of normal, the Blue Line will run at full weekday levels, and the T will have extra buses on standby to help out on routes that get crowded. The ferry system, which hasn’t been operating at all since March, will return Monday.

The agency’s goal is to run service at levels to provide enough room in its vehicles for riders to maintain social distance. That challenge begins in earnest over the next few weeks as the state approaches the next stage of its economic recovery.

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• The MBTA will distribute face coverings to riders who don’t have masks at a handful of stations for two weeks starting Monday. Between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., workers will have face coverings on hand at Forest Hills, Maverick, Ashmont, and Haymarket.

The T has been criticized by its largest union for not strictly enforcing rules that riders should wear face coverings; although the agency says riders are required to wear them, officials say they can’t fully enforce the rule under an executive order from Governor Charlie Baker that provides exemptions based on health privacy concerns.

• The transit agency also unveiled a system that will show crowding levels on nine bus routes to help riders plan. The routes are: the 1, 15, 16, 22, 23, 31, 32, 109, and 110. Riders can use the MBTA’s website and the Transit smartphone app to see whether a particular bus is “crowded,” “not crowded,” or has “some crowding,” based on real-time passenger data for in-progress trips. The information will also be displayed at the small number of bus stops that have digital display boards showing arrival times.

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The T will include more bus routes throughout the summer. Officials have said they cannot produce real-time data for subway cars, however; instead, any information on crowding levels may be based on trends from recent days.

• And on the commuter rail, the T is introducing a new fare aimed at riders who are mostly working from home during the pandemic and don’t need a monthly pass. The “flex pass” will let riders buy five round-trip tickets at a 10 percent discount; the tickets must be used within a 30-day window. The pass will launch on July 1 and be tested for three months; for now it can only be purchased on the commuter rail’s mTicket smartphone app.

• Massachusetts recorded more than 91 million Uber and Lyft trips in 2019, a 12 percent increase from the year before. As in each of the three years that the state has reported the data, Boston accounted for a huge chunk of ride-hail usage, with just about half of all trips starting in the city last year.

But other communities saw much higher gains on a percentage basis, according to the Department of Public Utilities, which collects and reports the data: some in the southeastern part of the state, for example, saw their trip numbers more than double. Meanwhile some parts of western Massachusetts still have very few trips, with counts in the single or low-double digits; some towns out there did not have a single trip in the last year.

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Overall, this was slower growth than the year before, when usage increased by about 25 percent — an explosive uptake that was seen as at least a partial cause of Greater Boston’s traffic woes. Prior to the pandemic, politicians had been considering an increase in state fees on the ride-hail services to help fund public transit, but it is now unclear if those policies will ultimately be approved.

Even if those fees went up, they wouldn’t raise nearly as much money as expected, at least in the near-term. That’s because since the pandemic, the amount of ride-hail trips are way down. It’s probably a good bet that, for the first time, the state’s 2020 data will show fewer rides.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.