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STARTS & STOPS

T’s declining ridership: Why and where

John Blanding/Globe Staff

Blue Line ridership is actually up slightly, one of the variances in the system.

By Globe Staff 

MBTA ridership is on the decline.

The agency has in recent weeks divulged it saw a decrease in trips in fiscal 2017 from the previous year. Ridership dipped 2 percent on its heavy rail lines, and 6 percent on buses.

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It’s probably too simple to say riders are ditching mass transit, and officials noted a lot of nuance to the data. We parsed some of the numbers:

Subway ridership is actually up during rush hours, which may come as little surprise to crowded Red and Orange line commuters.

Most of the decline is attributed to weekend and off-peak travel times. Laurel Paget-Seekins, the T’s strategic initiatives director, floated ideas to attract more riders outside rush hour, including different fares during these hours.

There’s a geographic distinction: Some buses to the northeast side of Boston and toward Chelsea have seen ridership increase. And the Blue Line, which also travels in that direction, has seen a 3 percent uptick.

The numbers refer to rides and not necessarily passengers. Some riders may still be using the T, just not as much.

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Ride-hail services Uber and Lyft may be partially to blame. About 30 percent of passengers surveyed told the T that they use public transit less because of the availability of these services. T board chairman Joseph Aiello cautioned against overreacting to the ride-hail competition, saying those companies may eventually raise fares to become profitable. That could lighten their impact on MBTA ridership, he said.

Relatively cheap gas may be a factor.

Fare increases have so far offset the decline in ridership, but T officials note that fare revenue is still running below projections, by an estimated $8 million over the year, and that the agency is facing a larger budget gap than expected.

Leave road to the robots, activist says

Corporate interests and transportation planners alike have been pushing to get driverless cars on the road. But a new nonprofit is taking a more militant approach, calling for an eventual ban on human driving.

That’s the long-term goal of Massachusetts activist Michael Latulippe, who launched an advocacy group called Humans Against Driving to promote autonomous vehicle use.

In case there’s any confusion, the group was named quite deliberately: “I chose Humans Against Driving instead of People Against Driving, because I don’t want to preclude the possibility that robots may be considered people in the future,” he explained.

It’s a stark shift in policy focus for Latulippe, a prominent medical marijuana advocate in the state. But he said his motivations with both issues are similar: He sees them as health care matters.

He wants driverless cars to help people who are sick or have disabilities that prevent them from driving. As medical marijuana was legalized before recreational marijuana, Latulippe thinks it makes sense to start his advocacy with a focus on patients.

But then, if the industry can get the technology down right, his group’s next step would be to push to end human driving, on the belief that it would reduce accidents. He allowed that hobbyists could still be allowed to drive on a closed course away from normal roads.

Massachusetts permits driverless vehicle testing but has not set clear guidelines for deploying the technology on roads. Testing companies are required to have a driver behind the wheel to take control during emergencies. But in Phoenix, Google sister company Waymo has begun piloting cars with no human in the driver’s seat.

Transportation turnover

Of all the municipal elections Tuesday, Lynn’s mayoral race probably had the greatest implication for transportation.

State Senator Thomas McGee, who co-chairs the Legislature’s transportation committee, was elected mayor of a city he’s long represented on Beacon Hill — and where he’s long pushed for an expansion of Blue Line service and for permanent commuter ferry rides.

His election means a new senator will get a crack at directing the chamber’s transportation priorities. The Senate vice chairman is Senator Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, but Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has not yet designated who will take McGee’s place. Representative William Straus is the House transportation chairman.


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