10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Globe

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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby RailBus63 » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:38 am

NH2060 wrote:Well when you consider what's happened over the past 10 years (2003-2013) you've got:

1) The bank collapses/recession.
2) Elimination of weekend CR service on the Needham, Greenbush, and Kingston/Plymouth lines.
3) The fare hikes (as Tom noted).
4) The cost of petrol in MA, from what I've seen, isn't as expensive as in other states(?).


The CT-NY-NJ metro area was affected heavily by the financial collapse and the commuter rail systems there have also had multiple fare increases, yet ridership has returned with the improving economy.

Also, re: gas prices - New Jersey has some of the lowest gasoline prices in the Northeast, yet NJT ridership has been on a steady climb since the 1980's.

A more in-depth studdy would be helpful. Downtown parking has always been pretty expensive, so I find it difficult to believe that raising commuter rail parking rates and even fare increases would push people to drive. Some may be abandoning the trains foir the subway system, but that is hardly a beacon of reliability either.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby GE45tonner » Wed Oct 23, 2013 1:12 pm

I wonder if the new locomotives will help. On time trains is always good
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby Adirondacker » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:20 pm

BrandeisRoberts wrote:
RailBus63 wrote:Also, re: gas prices - New Jersey has some of the lowest gasoline prices in the Northeast, yet NJT ridership has been on a steady climb since the 1980's.


When the alternatives are the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the train will always look good.


And once you get into Manhattan the traffic is gridlocked and the parking is expensive.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby joshg1 » Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:29 pm

15% is a big drop, especially when you consider there are no more parking spaces downtown, and fewer as the South Boston waterfront is built up. And Boston seems to be booming right along. I'm inclined to think former suburban CR riders are not moving or driving into subway/bus territory so much as they are being replaced by people who already live in that area. A generational shift, plus rising fares will probably turn out to be the cause.

Half on topic- fewer people using CR to work in Boston/Cambridge makes South Coast rail even less reasonable. If city workers don't want to live on the existing CR network, why would they move down there to commute?
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby jscola30 » Fri Oct 25, 2013 12:03 am

For many years, since June of 2008, I was a Zone 3 pass holder, primarily using the Old Colony Lines, and sometimes the Needham Line. I have to say, more often than not, the trains ran on time and were fairly reliable. I stopped recently because of changes in my work and increases in student loan payments. I do have to say, I miss it, but it just doesn't make economical sense anymore. However, I do still take it if I will be going home during evening rush hour. I don't know how you can say the traffic's not too bad, at least on the X-Way, where the evening rush is now starting at 2:15/2:30 PM, and the red line gets packed. It can take me an additional 20-30 min to get home from the red line if I take that instead. The lady at Back Bay who has written to the AG reminds me of a professor at the school where I work who has given up the commuter rail (Eastern route/Newburryport/Rockport Line) and taken the bus instead. For him, the level of service, at least what I saw from his online status updates, was deplorable (although the few times I ride the Eastern route a year, service has been fine). I think that's played a role, I think mostly the fare increases have been. The Zone 3 pass in the last hike went up $50, that can be a considerable amount of money for some people. One thing though, I'm not sure how other systems work, but despite the fare increase, I think overall the pass is still a good value. I know in NY and NJ you cannot use the pass to ride the subway and bus, even if it's the same agency (T also has express busses and inner harbor ferries), and it's not bound by stations. While other systems have increased fares, I wonder if they've been the same proportionally. I've often thought perhaps the T could have 2 levels of passes, one just commuter rail and one commuter rail "plus" pass (which would be what they have now).
I personally think the fare increases, combined with the recession, memories of late trains, and infrequency of service are the reasons behind it. I've always thought commuter rail should have a "build it and they will come" approach. Let's try more weekend and off peak departures and see if people come. Right now it's all self fulfilling. Well no one rides during this time so lets make more cuts, etc. Some lines too ( like the Old Colony Lines) don't have late night trains that leave towards 1am, I believe this is due to NIMBYism (because I seem to remember a proposal to do just that), and in that case, riders can look simply to their neighbors as to the cause of that.

I don't think there is a simple way to get more ridership, but I think the T would be served by doing some sort of focus group or some survey to find out what would it take to get people to ride more. Since fares won't go down, perhaps think about offering off peak fares (I know this may make the fare structure more "confusing" but I believe many systems have this). I've suggested too the T do what Metro North does and partner with local sports teams, cultural venues and the like to offer weekend packages. The T needs to learn from other systems about what makes them more sucessful. And above all, our legislature has to stop being so gutless when it comes to investing in public transit.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby Elcamo » Fri Oct 25, 2013 1:25 am

Where on the eastern route is he? Having taken the "express" bus from Salem Station, I cannot see why anyone wouldn't drive or take the train if given the opprotunity. Honestly it's beyond worth the extra couple dollars to take the train, the trip is about an hour shorter and I have never not found a seat on the train.


I think part of the problem with CR is that owning a car is such a neccesity to the suburbs that it's designed to serve. With not much money to spare, and with traffic/gas prices relatively reasonable, it just doesn't always make economic sense to take the T in. If/when the cost of gas for a drive into the city is roughly the same as a train ticket, or when the traffic returns to ungodly levels, then I fully expect the CR ridership to bounce back up.

Living in Danvers it's so easy to hop on one of the million highways in town, but even in a city like Beverly or Salem it's hard to argue against the cost of maybe 2 or 3 gallons of gas (at about 3.50 a gallon I believe). So you're theoretically paying between $7-11 dollars in gas for a trip which costs $10.6 to $12.5 a day on the commuter rail. (assuming you have a pass for 212-250 a month divided by 20 days a month) Most of the middle class is priced out of riding the commuter rail right now, so either you rely solely on the T to get around (possible, but a complete pain in the ass in the suburbs) and cant afford your own vehicle, or you're pretty well off and are paying for the convenience. The first group wants more bus connections and urbanization, the second wants more parking spaces/fancy garages (cough cough salem cough cough) and to keep things suburban. The middle just wants cheaper fares, even if it's at expense to the other two groups.

Only way to solve this is for gas prices to start climbing, or ironically for more people to start driving in and clogging up the highways more.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby jscola30 » Fri Oct 25, 2013 2:15 am

He is from Salem.

I do think the traffic thing may indeed be where we are headed. Forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but on the Xway, in addition to what I've said above, now evening rush headed INTO the city is just as bad as the morning rush, and the weekends can be a gamble starting in the early afternoon. Outbound from the city always seems crowded on Saturdays, even during the winter. The time on the Xway where there is no traffic is getting smaller and smaller.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby Adams_Umass_Boston » Fri Oct 25, 2013 7:31 am

Although I suspect that there are many reasons that have lead to loss in ridership, I think the raise in fares was one of the larger factors. As a few other commenter on here have suggested.

I have a colleague who took the commuter rail in from Salem everyday. She enjoyed that experience. With the last two fare hikes, she has switched to taking the 450 bus in to Haymarket instead. She can no longer afford to take the CR. Not even on the occasional occurrence. I know I have heard this too from some of my students at work as well.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby RailBus63 » Fri Oct 25, 2013 8:32 am

jscola30 wrote:ForI've always thought commuter rail should have a "build it and they will come" approach. Let's try more weekend and off peak departures and see if people come. Right now it's all self fulfilling. Well no one rides during this time so lets make more cuts, etc. Some lines too ( like the Old Colony Lines) don't have late night trains that leave towards 1am, I believe this is due to NIMBYism (because I seem to remember a proposal to do just that), and in that case, riders can look simply to their neighbors as to the cause of that.


There just is no money for speculative service increases right now. None. The MBTA still has a major budget problem - the legislature didn't go nearly far enough in fixing this.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby wicked » Fri Oct 25, 2013 8:34 am

jscola30 wrote:Forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but on the Xway, in addition to what I've said above, now evening rush headed INTO the city is just as bad as the morning rush


This is not a new thing. Going into the city northbound on the Xway in the afternoon has generally been a pain, even in the days before a lane was knocked out for the zipper lane.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby ns3010 » Fri Oct 25, 2013 8:54 am

BrandeisRoberts wrote:
RailBus63 wrote:Also, re: gas prices - New Jersey has some of the lowest gasoline prices in the Northeast, yet NJT ridership has been on a steady climb since the 1980's.


When the alternatives are the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the train will always look good.



If by good, you mean slightly less worse, then yes. From where I live in NJ, it's roughly 50 miles to New York, so roughly the same as Fitchburg. Every time I take NJT into NY it's $14.75 one way and over a two hour ride. And I have to change trains. A monthly pass would be $414. Between the outrageous tolls and parking fees and the cost of gas, taking the train saves some money. But not much time, if at all. At offpeak times when driving traffic is less of an issue, taking the train isn't worth the absurd amount of time it takes to get there.

So a comparable-distance monthly pass on NJT is $100, 45 minutes, and one train more than a zone 8 pass on the CR.


So I say commuter rail prices here are a bargain.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby octr202 » Fri Oct 25, 2013 10:06 am

ns3010, the other big component you're missing is frequency. Length of travel time is one part of the slowness, the other half as it affects MBTA commuter rail service is frequency. We charge some of the highest fares outside of the NYC market, but our frequencies (especially off-peak) are pretty low.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby ns3010 » Fri Oct 25, 2013 11:26 am

octr202 wrote:ns3010, the other big component you're missing is frequency. Length of travel time is one part of the slowness, the other half as it affects MBTA commuter rail service is frequency. We charge some of the highest fares outside of the NYC market, but our frequencies (especially off-peak) are pretty low.


The worst frequency I've ever seen is on the NJT Montclair-Boonton Line eastbound (westbound frequencies are far from great, but are better). Between MSU and Denville (the Morristown Line rejoins at Denville, so frequencies west of there aren't bad), there are 5 inbound peak trains and zero off-peak inbounds. None. None arriving in Hoboken after 10:26 (connecting train to NY arrives at 10:40). Zero weekend service as well. Everyone has been turned away by the terrible schedule, and since no one rides, trains continue to be cut. Eventually there will be no riders and no trains left on that line.

While I don't disagree that off-peak CR service could maybe use a few more offpeak trains (especially weekends!), there is enough service to make it an option for many people. I don't think train frequency is nearly as much of an issue as reliability, fares, and parking costs are for most people.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby jscola30 » Fri Oct 25, 2013 4:04 pm

Good point about other fares. Zone 3 I think is 6.75 one way. When I stay in Newark airport and take NJT to NYC, it's 12.50 ONE WAY. Mileage is much less, but time wise is similar. To go from Newark Airport to Newark Penn Station I believe is somewhere around $8, so that's just 6 min and a few miles, BUT on the other hand, you get at least 3 trains an hour, however, not 24/7.
RailBus63 wrote:
jscola30 wrote:ForI've always thought commuter rail should have a "build it and they will come" approach. Let's try more weekend and off peak departures and see if people come. Right now it's all self fulfilling. Well no one rides during this time so lets make more cuts, etc. Some lines too ( like the Old Colony Lines) don't have late night trains that leave towards 1am, I believe this is due to NIMBYism (because I seem to remember a proposal to do just that), and in that case, riders can look simply to their neighbors as to the cause of that.


There just is no money for speculative service increases right now. None. The MBTA still has a major budget problem - the legislature didn't go nearly far enough in fixing this.


That's why I said our Legislature has to stop being to gutless and impotent, make the investment.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby trainhq » Fri Oct 25, 2013 8:25 pm

Looking back at the SEPTA model, it seems like the answer for boosting ridership inside 128 is frequent service with smaller trainsets. Imagine running DMU's to places like Needham, Framingham, Lynn, Waltham, and Westwood on short, 30-60 minute headways. With improvements in switches, scheduling, and reliability that would allow the longer-distance locomotive-hauled trains to skip most of those densely-spaced inner stations allowing dramatically-shortened travel times to draw additional riders in. It's a total pipe dream, but it would be a much better way to spend that 2 billion earmarked for SCR.



It's not a pipe dream. They're looking into doing it on the Fairmount line. Once they got 'em there, I'd say it's a matter
of time before they show up elsewhere. Perfect for off-peak, more frequent running. (Note that a lot of the current
off peak trains only run 2 or 3 cars as is).
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