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MBTA will boost commuter rail service to Lynn, Brockton

The idea is to encourage bus riders to move onto less crowded trains.

Commuter rail platforms at South Station.
Commuter rail platforms at South Station.Erin Clark / Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will rearrange its commuter rail schedule in November, expanding service to Lynn and Brockton in hopes of persuading bus riders to take less crowded trains instead.

The new schedule is not yet available but was outlined Monday at a meeting of the MBTA’s governing board. Compared to last fall, more trains will run across the system, with many allocated to the Newburyport/Rockport line, which serves Lynn, and the Middleboro line, which serves Brockton.

Two new trips will also be added on the Fairmount Line, which runs through bus-heavy neighborhoods in Boston and already saw an increase in service earlier this year. Among all commuter lines, the Fairmount Line has regained the highest portion of its old rush-hour ridership at nearly 20 percent.

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Across the system, the MBTA also plans to run more midday service, as ridership trends have changed during the coronavirus pandemic, said Rob DiAdamo, the agency’s commuter rail director.

“Instead of having super-strong peaks and then possibly limited service throughout the day, try to spread the service out so it is more evenly maintained to promote more options and give people that socially distant option,” DiAdamo said.

The commuter rail has traditionally been geared to nine-to-five office workers from the suburbs, and as a result has seen far fewer riders return than the subway and especially bus service. Commuter trains are registering about 7 percent of their pre-pandemic rush-hour ridership, though all-day ridership is 11 percent.

Under the new schedule, trains will arrive at Lynn roughly every 30 minutes midday, compared to every 30 to 90 minutes before. Brockton will have service every hour or so, compared to every 90 minutes to two hours under old schedules.

The changes come as the MBTA, which is relying on federal assistance to cover fare losses this year, eyes a massive budget shortfall next summer. On Monday, officials began outlining priorities for potential service cuts, suggesting they would minimize cuts and even expand service on busier routes and lines, especially where users rely solely on public transit, while cutting service elsewhere.

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During Monday’s meeting, Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok encouraged the T and its board members to lobby state leaders for more funding to avoid these cuts.

But MBTA officials also said the agency collected about $5 million more in fare revenue in July than expected, and held the line on spending enough to minimize widely expected losses. That could be a sign that the MBTA can mitigate its budget crisis in the coming months, although officials cautioned it will be harder to outperform fare expectations later, when budget projections assume big ridership gains.

“One month does not make a trend," said Mary Ann O’Hara, the MBTA’s chief financial officer.

The schedule changes will carry no additional cost to the MBTA as the result of cuts elsewhere. An ongoing test of daily service to Foxborough will be suspended for at least six months, and the MBTA will also end late-night runs to the South Shore, which were meant to encourage riders to take public transit to professional sports games and other nighttime events that have disappeared during the pandemic.

The MBTA is also experimenting with a fare reduction between Lynn and Boston, from $7 to $2.40, to draw riders away from the busier bus network and the Blue Line. Officials say it’s not clear yet whether it has worked, but board members suggested the agency try similar reductions elsewhere, including Brockton.

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