Red Line riders whose commute is already full of starts and stops had another slow zone added to their trips last week.
Or so it seems.
The median travel time between Broadway Station and Andrew Station doubled from the week before, according to MBTA travel time data analyzed by TransitMatters, a public transportation advocacy group. A round trip on the Red Line is now more than 21 minutes slower than if trains were traveling at full speed, the group estimates.
The MBTA didn’t alert passengers to the sudden slowdown, leaving riders to wonder:
Why is my train going slower? Does the T know about it? How long will it take to get fixed?
But commuters may soon get some answers.
In response to questions from the Globe this week, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the agency is working on “designing a public-facing report to make data easily understandable” and plans to post information about slow zones this spring, “including track lengths, speeds, dates and reasons for restrictions.”
The move would be a welcome change from the agency’s longstanding resistance to releasing information about its slow zones, stretches where trains have to travel at reduced speeds because of damaged track and other issues.
The MBTA does not publish information about its slow zones and has repeatedly declined requests to provide a full list of its speed restrictions. Estimates from TransitMatters, which designates areas as slow zones after several consecutive days of increased travel time, are the only public glimpse at the system’s struggles.
“For some time there has been a culture of secrecy and only giving riders what they think they need to know,” said Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters. “What I really want to see from the T is not just the full extent of these speed restrictions, but more importantly, ‘What’s the plan to address them?’ ”
Not all transit agencies are this opaque. In Chicago, the Transit Authority’s “slow zone elimination” webpage features links to slow zone data and maps dating back to 2005, providing crucial information about the condition of the city’s public transit infrastructure.
That information doesn’t always make CTA look good. From last January to November, the most recent month available, the percentage of track with slow zones increased from 15.6 to 16.8.
An agency spokesperson said that the information lets riders know that “we are continually monitoring slow zones and working on ways to address them.”
The Globe recently surveyed seven other transit agencies across the country about their slow zone disclosure policies. Three agencies (WMATA in Washington D.C., SEPTA in Philadelphia, and BART in San Francisco) said they have no slow zones in place and therefore do not publish any slow zone data.
Metro in Los Angeles and MARTA in Atlanta said they have a small number of slow zones and do not make them public. A spokesperson for the MTA in New York City said slow zone information is not shared with riders “due to safety,” and declined to answer follow-up questions. PATH in New York and New Jersey did not respond.
Slow zones are a widely used measure of a transit system’s performance and are meant to be in place temporarily until infrastructure repairs can be made. But a Globe review of 60 speed restrictions in place across the MBTA system in October showed that more than 20 percent had gone unrepaired for at least a year.
The MBTA has resisted sharing information about track problems and the efforts to address them, transit advocates and experts said.
Even when the agency does provide records, they are often inconsistent or incomplete. When the Globe first requested the MBTA’s internal list of speed restrictions last summer, the agency took four months to provide a partial spreadsheet dating back to 2019.
A second version of the records included more than 100 additional restrictions in the original time frame. The T did not respond at the time to questions about the discrepancy.
The agency’s more recent efforts to track its speed restrictions — a list of active speed restrictions emailed weekly to staff since August — are also incomplete. The MBTA confirmed it does not preserve those updates in full and shared only cut-off PDFs in response to additional records requests from the Globe, often omitting slow zones on the Green Line and Mattapan trolley.
Missing from the MBTA’s internal logs, as well as CTA’s public ones, are descriptions of what is being done to lift the speed restrictions, advocates said.
In August, the MBTA closed the entire Orange Line for 30 days to fix the tracks. But at least three of the six slow zones that the MBTA said it had eliminated during the shutdown still had speed restrictions in place as of Jan. 4, according to an internal log obtained by the Globe.
Last week, the MBTA said it would be closing part of the Orange Line for the weekend for “work on the Government Center Garage.” After questions from the Globe, the MBTA acknowledged it would also be doing repairs to try to eliminate the persistent Orange Line slow zones.
“Riders have a fairly high tolerance for disruption, but what has people nearly at their breaking point is that there seems to be no end,” Johnson said. “People just need to know the T has a plan to fix these things.”