The historically secretive MBTA for the first time released a look at the condition of its subway system’s slow zones on Friday, marking one of the first steps in a new era of transparency at the agency promised by the Healey administration.
Slow zones — areas of track where trains have to travel at lower speeds because of infrastructure defects — have long plagued the MBTA because it failed to properly maintain its system. Now, when riders feel their train slow down, they can check the T’s list of slow zones to ensure the agency has acknowledged it and understand why.
The MBTA becomes only the second major transit agency in the country to publish its slow zone information, following the Chicago Transit Authority, which has been making such information public since 2005, a Globe review found. TransitMatters, a Boston-based public transit advocacy group, has been estimating the T’s slow zones for years based on travel time data provided by the agency. Its information, however, is only a glimpse of the longstanding track problems.
The T is working on an interactive slow zone web page that will be available as soon as mid-March. In the meantime, the T will publish a document every month featuring all speed restrictions in place, including location, date reported, cause, speed limit, and distance of each speed restriction, said David Burns, the agency’s director of data strategy. It will also include the total percentage of track with speed restrictions for each line, Burns said. Slow zone data will be available for download on the T’s Open Data Portal site as well, Burns said. .
“No one is actually publishing this information, definitely not in the way that we’re doing it,” said Burns. “So I think we’re going to be leading the pack in that area.”
The announcement came as the MBTA had to replace Red Line service with shuttle buses for several hours on Friday morning between Harvard and Broadway stations after an equipment truck derailed.
T officials also announced Friday that reductions to subway service by more than 20 percent that were initiated last June will remain in place, making any additional disruptions even more inconvenient for riders, many of whom have also seen their commutes slow significantly due to speed restrictions.
Meanwhile, missing from the new data on slowdowns is any information about when the T will end each slow zone.
TransitMatters executive director Jarred Johnson said the T’s new public information is a “good first step,” but what riders most care about is when service will improve.
“We’re really happy that the T has this data out there, it really shows a stark change between the last administration and this one,” he said. “We need a really robust plan to fix these slow zones and an acknowledgment of how much degradation of service there’s been.”
The T’s list of speed restrictions from Jan. 31 shows 70 total slow zones covering 8.7 miles, or 6.5 percent, of the system’s tracks. The Orange and the Green lines have the highest percentage of track labeled as slow zones; most Orange Line slow zones are because of vehicle problems, the tracker shows, while most of the Green Line slow zones are due to track problems. TransitMatters’ slow zone tracker estimates that an end-to-end round trip on the Red Line, for example, is now around 40 minutes longer because of the slow zones, the longest since the group started tracking in 2016. (The group does not track slow zones on the Green Line.)
Interim T general manager Jeff Gonneville said MBTA crews are doing track work every night and planning shutdowns to tackle slow zones.
“As we start to talk about particular diversions that we’re doing, we will be able to circle back and say for this diversion, we will be addressing these very specific speed restrictions in this area, as well as obviously looking to prevent future speed restrictions by also just catching up on work,” he said.
The T also launched a website dedicated to tracking its progress complying with special directives from the Federal Transit Administration, which investigated safety at the agency last year after a long series of grave safety incidents. The FTA found the T’s focus on long-term projects had come at the expense of day-to-day operations and safety.
That website features links to all of the FTA-approved corrective action plans, pie charts telling riders how many action items have been submitted to the FTA for approval, and an estimated date for when the T plans to complete all of the required action items in each plan. So far, the tracker shows the T has completed 36 percent of 545 action items. The tracker says the T aims to complete all of its action items by 2025.
“The goal here really is transparency with our process, transparency with our data, transparency about the progress and the improvements that we’re making to the MBTA,” said Katie Choe, who heads the newly created Quality, Compliance, and Oversight Office.
Choe said so far the T has remained on schedule with its obligations to the FTA.