“Watch the doors. Doors are closing. There is more service immediately behind this train. Please wait for the next train. Doors are closing.”
I find I am hearing this message more and more on the MBTA. So when the transit agency announced yesterday that average weekday ridership topped 400 million trips in FY2012, setting a new record, I was not the least bit surprised. Ridership was up 5.7% over last year and June 2012 marked the 17th consecutive month of growth as compared to the same month in the previous year.
Ridership increased across all modes, with the biggest increase in trolley ridership, up by 8% followed by buses up by 5.9% and then subway, up by 5.2%.
MBTA general manager Jonathan Davis credited the record ridership to various factors including a growing state economy, lower state unemployment rates, increased availability of real-time information for riders and an overall improvement of MBTA reliability. To me, the reasons for the increased ridership are less important than the bigger, general trend: more and more people are relying on the Commonwealth’s transit system. This is great news for people and the environment because it means less air pollution and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing transit instead of driving alone produces half the greenhouse gas emissions per mile. For this we can all breathe easier, whether you use public transit or not.
Unfortunately, last January, the MBTA announced a budget deficit of $159 million. Just a month ago, on July 1, fares went up 23% to raise an additional $84 million a year for the agency. The rest of the deficit was closed by a combination of service changes, administrative efficiencies, and one-time revenues. Already, the MBTA has projected a new operating budget gap of close to $90 million for next year. That means that it’s a guarantee we’ll be having the same conversation again soon and fare increases and service cuts will be on the table once again if we do not come up with a long-term solution and balance the MBTA’s budget for good. The numbers are clear. People want a healthy transit system and the time to invest is now.