scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Officials hope increased T ridership will outlast Sumner Tunnel closure

To continue to raise awareness about alternative travel options during the Sumner Tunnel closure, officials rode the MBTA 111 bus from Chelsea to downtown Boston. MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng, Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll, Transportation Secretary, CEO Gina Fiandaca, and others participated.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

With the Sumner Tunnel closed, ridership on some key MBTA routes is up, state officials said Monday — and they hope new T riders will stick around even after the road reopens next month.

Speaking to reporters Monday at the Sagamore Ave @ Jones Ave bus stop, MassDOT Secretary Gina Fiandaca said work on the Sumner Tunnel, which closed July 5, is more than halfway completed. The tunnel is expected to reopen to traffic at the end of August, on schedule.

Fiandaca said MassDOT continues to monitor congestion from its District 6 headquarters but has so far seen “really minimal impact to the traffic network.”


“But really, today is about public transit,” she said. “We want everyone to ditch the drive and stay on the bus, stay on public transit, make that mode-shift even after the tunnel is open.”

Fiandaca boarded the Route 111 bus from Chelsea to downtown Boston a little after 8 a.m., repeating calls for people to use public transit while the nearly 90-year-old tunnel is closed for repairs.

The 111 bus is free during the closure — as are bus routes 112, 114, 116, 117, the inbound Silver Line 3, the East Boston ferry, and the Blue Line subway. Additionally, fares on the Newburyport/Rockport Commuter Rail line and the Lynn and Winthrop ferries are reduced to $2.40 each way.

Joining Fiandaca were Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, MBTA General Manager Phil Eng, a handful of Chelsea officials, and about a dozen regular commuters.

Eng said ridership on the 111 bus has been “very robust,” and the Blue Line has seen a “nice ridership increase” of about 15 to 20 percent, although that figure shifts from day to day. He said the 111 runs every 3 to 8 minutes during the morning rush.


“Mass transportation is probably the best way to get around the city,” Eng said. “We’re very proud of the bus service that we have.”

Eng said the T’s new contract with the Carmen’s Local 589 union, which includes increased starting pay for bus drivers, will grant the agency a “more robust ability to provide service for all communities.” The T has long struggled with employee retention, a problem partly driven by low wages.

Driscoll called the nearly two-month tunnel project an “opportunity, really, for people to think about mode-shift” and test alternate ways of getting to work.

“We’ve got just about three weeks to go until the tunnel opens back up, and we want to really encourage people to take public transportation not just while this project’s underway, but hopefully afterwards as well,” she said, speaking over the hiss of a braking bus.

Judith A. Garcia, who represents the 11th Suffolk district in the Massachusetts House, bobbed as the bus bumped onto the Tobin Bridge. She said the closure has meant trouble for local traffic in Chelsea.

“Historically, in situations like this, Chelsea gets the spillover effects,” Garcia said. “We have more traffic coming into our city, which is not only creating more traffic and more pollution, but it’s also adding more to the time that it takes people to get from place to place.”

Garcia said the state’s push to get drivers off the roads is important, but “there is a lot that needs to be improved in the public transportation system” to accommodate a permanent increase in T riders.


As officials boarded the bus, traffic into downtown Boston had already slowed to its now-usual crawl. From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monday, it took drivers between 20 and 25 minutes to get across the Zakim Bridge and around 20 minutes to get from East Boston to Government Center via Interstate 90, according to traffic data provided by Mass511.

Meanwhile, the MBTA reported no delays on bus routes 111, 116, 117, Silver Line routes 1 and 3, or the Blue Line in its morning traffic updates.

The officials’ ride took about 27 minutes, pulling up to Haymarket Station just after 8:30 a.m.

Daniel Kool can be reached at Follow him @dekool01.