10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Globe

Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

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

Postby Arborwayfan » Wed Oct 30, 2013 8:46 am

In the last 10-20 years there's been a return to the old "streetcar suburbs" by people with money who want to avoid traffic. Parts of JP got more expensive that West Roxbury (weird for someone who grew up in Rozzie in the 80s and early 90s), for example. End of rent control also probably contributed to changing who lives in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, etc. I wonder if people who work downtown are more likely to live in Boston and Cambridge and Somerville and so on now than they were 10 or 20 years ago? That could have cut into the market for CR. Is there a study of what the riders are doing instead? Has the number of cars into downtown gone up? Does someone track commuting in Greater Boston, who lives where and works where?

Group rates esp on weekends and off peak are a good idea.

Maybe get the express bus and CR schedules and fares onto one plan, so they aren't competing, and so that express buses can fill in between some CR trips off peak?
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby jbvb » Wed Oct 30, 2013 2:38 pm

I think the bottom line is that post-Dukakis, the MBTA Commuter Rail has been run on a basis of "keeping our jobs" (where 'us' includes those under the Golden Dome) rather than "providing good service". Examples abound, including sweetheart treatment of MBCR over contract penalties, the concrete tie fiasco, the "don't kill the job, Kenny" attitude prevailing at most maintenance & upgrade projects. Pass prices might look good to a 6/week commuter who can walk to the station, but the weekend service wouldn't work at all for me. A governor (or maybe even a mayor of Boston) who uses the service would drive a world of change.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby Elcamo » Wed Oct 30, 2013 11:21 pm

Why does the T contract operations out? In the article it says that theres a lot of crossover between people working with MBCR and the MBTA, so why not just run it internally? Im relatively new to all of this so please forgive me if I made a mistake.

Also, are there any other sources for ridership numbers or is there a link to what the actual numbers are? I couldnt find one in the article or earlier in the thread but I guess I could've always just missed it somehow.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby jbvb » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:47 am

The Boston commuter operation is a size where the T could run it in house. But remember Gov. Cellucci's intervention in the T's negotiations with the Carmen's Union in 1998 (his Wikipedia page doesn't) - T management is justly afraid that they'd be even more exposed to "I'll buy your support out of an account that doesn't appear on the state budget" manuvers, plus costs would rise a lot if CR employees were brought up to "best in the country" Local 589 standard.

There's nothing about contracting it out that prevents good service - the T sets the schedules, and acquiesces in service negatives like "no water in the sinks". Private contractors are by their nature driven to do the absolute minimum necessary to fulfill the contract, so they can maximize their profit. The T re-negotiated the penalties included in the original contract, so that's the T's bad. Employees have told me they'd much rather work for Amtrak, as there, after the contracted overhead costs, all the money would go to providing the service.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:02 pm

The problem with it, and the reason why any commuter rail operator of similar size doesn't do this, is the profit motive vs. being unencumbered at applying higher % of the revenue intake into ops. But also the fact that it's an extra layer of opaqueness to the operation that the public cannot see and has limited ability to demand accountability for, especially when the terms of the contract are so favorable to the for-profit operator like this unfortunate permissive MBCR contract was. It's difficult to get data on what it is MBCR actually does and to break down its operating costs and operating influence at the micro-level like it is with the T at-large which must publish its books and service records to the public. MBCR has a level of privacy that the public agency doesn't have. And since its unique contributions to the staff are strictly middle- and upper-management, it's those layers of the organization that benefit the most and have the most cloaking-by-opaqueness. Front-line employees who transfer over involuntarily from operator to operator don't have those protections. And they prefer the Amtraks of the world over the for-profits of the world because of that. Amtrak is the contracted operator on the majority of the "best of the rest" ridership commuter rails not quite large enough for in-house ops because being a gov't entity they are not motivated by the same profit motive or drive for more...not less...opaqueness. In fact, it is a necessary motivator for their corridor and LD bread-and-butter to be as open a book and as public-service minded with their mercenary operations as they are with their mission-statement operations. It directly affects their fed investment and survival to be totally above-board on this.

Secondarily, the ops that are farmed out to for-profit freight railroads like CSX's couple of misc. contracts do not suffer the same opaqueness as outside consortiums like MBCR or bulk bottom feeders like Veolia. They don't care about making a management name for themselves. They care about the railroad running on-time so they can run their freights on-time. Yes, they have for-profit motives. They also have a for-profit stake in running good railroad ops for running good railroad ops' sake. A consortium of Veolia, an equipment builder like Bombardier, and a holding company whose owners' primary revenue source is running one of New England's largest private bus operators that quasi-competes with a niche of the regional intercity commuter rail audience...needs toothy performance clauses in the contract to compensate for what it lacks in motivation for full transparency and no-bull ops focus. Plus counteracting the inherent conflicts of interest in the partners.


If they cannot hold an operator of this ilk to those standards by contract, and cannot find bidders other than this ilk willing to bid on their contract...that's a pretty powerful sign that they've graduated beyond the system size/scope where the free market benefits them. Every other large commuter rail operator figured that one out ages ago and brought things in-house, bigger bureaucracy be-damned. The fact that they're waving the white flag at even being prepared to transition to that model within 10 years also bends back on itself and says a lot about why they're unable to manage a for-profit operator and why the Amtraks and other competent bidders won't touch them. They're hitting an evolutionary dead end with the "We've always done it this way" internal culture, and need a thorough top-down organizational reforming pushed by the Legislature and their MassDOT bosses.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby joshg1 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 1:54 am

and need a thorough top-down organizational reforming pushed by the Legislature and their MassDOT bosses.


This website is full of ideas for new infrastructure and operational changes, as well as explanations of why they won't work. I have mine, but I don't know from management. How reform- what reforms? We need something solid to lobby the legislature- they're not going to think too hard about reforming anything on their own.

I have some thoughts about funding as well, but I have a vision of solons with dollar signs in their eyes, and bang goes reform.
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby cpf354 » Sun Nov 17, 2013 12:44 pm

Simple answer: read the Commuter Rail delay thread on this board.
If you absolutely need to be at your destination on time, you cannot rely on the commuter rail, period. :(
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Re: 10-Year decline in Commuter Rail Ridership - Boston Glob

Postby deathtopumpkins » Mon Nov 18, 2013 7:06 am

As a commuter on the CR, I have way more issues with the subway making me late (like waiting 25 min for a North Sta or Lechmere train at Park at rush hourwhile 5 Gov Ctr trains come).

Looking at the past 3 months I've never been late in the morning, and in the evening delays are semi-frequent, but only maybe once a month are more than 10 min.

I guess I must just be really lucky though.
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