Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

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Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby djimpact1 » Fri Feb 21, 2014 9:35 am

From the Patriot Ledger:
http://www.patriotledger.com/article/20 ... 4/0/SEARCH

I think what Mr. Prone is doing is certainly admirable, and I back his cause. Unfortunately, I question if there will be enough steam behind it to cause the T to seriously consider this.

There are two reasons why I'd personally utilize weekend CR service on the Greenbush Line: I think the idea of free weekend parking helps to balance the overall convenience of taking the CR over say, the Red Line (see next paragraph) & now that the T has stated they have no plans to reinstate the now-permanent closure of the Quincy ferry, I have one less option of getting into Boston.

Cost was my main reason for not utilizing weekend Commuter Rail service. I live in North Weymouth, so getting from there to Boston on the weekend provided me the following options:
1) Quincy F2 ferry: $16 round-trip & $4 parking = $20
2) Commuter Rail (Weymouth Landing): $12 round-trip & $4 parking = $16
3) Red Line (Braintree): $4 round-trip & $7 parking = $11
4) (walk to) 222 bus/Red Line (Quincy Cntr.): $3 bus round-trip & $4 subway round-trip = $7

Choice 1, though the most expensive, was a viable option, as I'd sporadically take the F2 ferry on weekends into Boston during Spring/Summer weather as a "treat", since the Fore River shipyard is not far from where I live.
Choice 3 forces me to drive 15 minutes to Braintree station...10 minutes past the Weymouth Landing CR station (which really sticks in my side). The upside is a $5 cheaper cost. This is currently my most used choice for weekends.
Choice 4 is literally a 5-minute walk from my house...problem is, bus service is abbreviated at best. Waiting for the 222 to show up can be painful at times, and though this is the cheapest option & easiest to get to, its overall convenience is slim.

If choice 2 (weekend Commuter Rail service) with Mr. Prone's "free parking" scenario was a reality, this would only cost $1 more ($12 total) than choice 3...it's 10 minutes closer to me than Braintree Station & more reliable to wait for than the 222 bus. Plus, it would increase my options getting into Boston from 2 to 3.

Could this be a reality sooner than later, or is this a dream?
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Fri Feb 21, 2014 10:21 am

I think they've got to consider it, though it'll probably be case-by-case and only one line at a time. Plymouth really ought to be first up by summertime; it hurts the tourist market to not have that option, and nobody should have to be subjected to Route 3 during Cape traffic. If there were any justice in this world Needham would get back online too, especially since the Route 128 reconstruction starts tearing through there in earnest next year and will royally screw up Kendrick St. and Highland Ave. at the overpasses and/or exits for a few years. But since they're the perennial black sheep of the commuter rail reality says the state's going to keep ignoring their pleas. Greenbush...yeah, eventually, but if the ridership just isn't coming around I don't see why they're owed a hurry-up on service restoration.

I'd like to see the local Chambers of Commerce and towns start to brainstorm ways to better encourage weekend trips to the South Shore. If weekend CR is always going to be a loss-leader, it matters if the destinations have some self-promotion tricks up their sleeve for car-free commutes. Kingston/Plymouth in summertime is tailor-made for this, and I could see those towns taking a page from the Cape and promoting some tourist deals, some bike rental deals, and advocating for the T to keep doing some skunkworks bike car conversions of surplus coaches to trial on their line. South Shore communities need to similarly get in the act along Greenbush. Hell...everybody does, especially the ones with good bike/beach/hiking destinations. The towns, Chambers, and MPO's systemwide really need to join forces under some sort of "Operation: Weekender" banner and promote the living hell out of their car-free commuter rail accessible leisure activities. Even if it's only going to make palpable difference in summer (or winter on the Fitchburg Line with Wachusett @ new Wachusett station and Nashoba Valley @ Littleton), it picks up the slack bigtime. Cape Flyer has proven this kind of multi-party promotional assault works. Even with little niche destinations on any given line there's opportunities here for promo to generate tangible weekend ridership if the stakeholders want to chase it and work together while chasing it.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby The EGE » Fri Feb 21, 2014 11:01 am

The T is already looking at the 5% (maximum allowed under last year's state law) fare increase to cover this year's budget shortfall. That $12B transportation package doesn't say a darned thing about paying to keep the trains running, so the T is probably going to continually face shortfalls.

Weekend service is an incredibly good loss leader. Shore Line East saw huge spikes this summer after they added off-peak and weekend service - go figure. It only takes one or two rides to the big city on the weekend to figure out that fighting 95 or 93 or 90 traffic is a truly stupid proposition.

I'd like to see the T have the ability to get weekend service back, but I can't say I'm terrible optimistic about it.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby octr202 » Fri Feb 21, 2014 11:22 am

I'll go out on a limb with talk of the mythical DMU again, but I think more effective weekend service really depends on something like that making off-peak service more cost effective. As it stands right now, the weekend service that is offered is often just charging too much (especially if parking costs have to be added) and way to infrequent to live up to expectations. Perhaps in the future DMUs could potentially lower some of the operating costs to a point where some of this becomes an option. Right now, $11-20 round trip, plus the possibility of parking at the station, is just too close to the costs of driving and parking in the city on weekends. Make that trip with two people (or more) in the car and it's value further declines.

At the same time, it's hard for the T to make the case that commuter rail fares should be lowered, given the high cost of the operation. I'm sure the perception that it largely serves wealthy suburbanites doesn't help, either (regardless of what many of us know - the people who are using the off-peak service often are those w/o the option of driving, not the "wealthy suburbanite"). Until more communities on both ends (either outlying cities/towns wishing to attract travelers) or business interests in Boston see the commuter rail system as a means of attracting and supporting business on weekends, I think we're unlikely to be able to make the case for either better service or lower fares on weekends.

Please note that I wish this was the case. I happen to live about 300 yards from a station, but a combination of infrequent service levels on the Western Route and high fares has led my wife and I to all but stop using the trains on weekends. $16 up front (and that doesn't include any subway trips) and the thought of 3-4 hour waits if missing a train home just don't make it worth it when you have other options.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby TomNelligan » Fri Feb 21, 2014 11:28 am

There would have been a lot more potential for summer tourist ridership to Plymouth if commuter service had been restored all the way to the former end of track near the downtown waterfront district rather than only to Cordage, which is too far from the harbor for most people to walk. The same outskirts-versus-downtown limitation applies to Newburyport, where the big park-and-ride lot on Route 1 is a great station location for commuters but not for tourists from Boston headed for the waterfront.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby chrisf » Fri Feb 21, 2014 11:49 am

octr202 wrote:I'll go out on a limb with talk of the mythical DMU again, but I think more effective weekend service really depends on something like that making off-peak service more cost effective.

When the Needham Line last ran on Saturdays, they were hauling around 5-7 coaches and opening one for passenger use. Even with 2 hour headways, the single coach was very rarely even close to full. DMUs seem like the only reasonable approach to making weekend service even somewhat viable. Presumably, an expanded Indigo Line service would have several free DMUs available on weekends which could possibly run on other lines.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby SM89 » Fri Feb 21, 2014 12:26 pm

djimpact1 wrote:
Cost was my main reason for not utilizing weekend Commuter Rail service. I live in North Weymouth, so getting from there to Boston on the weekend provided me the following options:

4) (walk to) 222 bus/Red Line (Quincy Cntr.): $3 bus round-trip & $4 subway round-trip = $7

Choice 4 is literally a 5-minute walk from my house...problem is, bus service is abbreviated at best. Waiting for the 222 to show up can be painful at times, and though this is the cheapest option & easiest to get to, its overall convenience is slim.


This round trip option is actually only $4. I assume you have a CharlieCard, not a CharlieTicket, so there is a transfer discount between subway and bus.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby Mcoov » Fri Feb 21, 2014 11:52 pm

Here's my two cents about DMUs.

Any DMU the T purchases is going to be a married set of 2 or more; more than likely the DMUs for the Indigo Line are going to be a married pair of 4 (A-B-B-A). For the medium weekend-load lines (Franklin, Fitchburg, Middleboro) this would be perfect. But for lines with weekend traffic as light as the Needham Line or the Greenbush Line, this will still be excess capacity. Unless the T purchases DMUs a la the RDC (not likely), I think DMUs will still present an issue.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby Adirondacker » Sat Feb 22, 2014 12:45 am

Mcoov wrote:Here's my two cents about DMUs.

Any DMU the T purchases is going to be a married set of 2 or more; more than likely the DMUs for the Indigo Line are going to be a married pair of 4 (A-B-B-A). For the medium weekend-load lines (Franklin, Fitchburg, Middleboro) this would be perfect. But for lines with weekend traffic as light as the Needham Line or the Greenbush Line, this will still be excess capacity. Unless the T purchases DMUs a la the RDC (not likely), I think DMUs will still present an issue.


DMUs that sit in the yard during weekday rush hours don't save money overall.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby merrick1 » Sat Feb 22, 2014 9:58 am

DMUs could be coupled for a long rush hour train and then broken up into smaller trains for off-peak service. The DMUs should have automatic couplers so that trains could be assembled and broken up easily.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Sat Feb 22, 2014 2:56 pm

I'd hesitate to put too much hopes in the Great White DMU hype as the universal solvent for any/all problems. The fundamental nature of weekend CR ops is not going to change by the presence of a vehicle type on the roster, and when all the fine print is sifted through you're probably going to find the cost savings negligible. Weekend service existing at all carries with it a substantial, unchanging overhead. And that's why it's a loss leader service. Running costs per length of vehicle is a drop in the bucket compared to staffing up the yards, layovers, central ops, and inspections dept.'s. So I don't think large-capacity push-pulls vs. small-capacity DMU's makes all that much difference if weekend schedules are a constant. After all, there are lines (Providence + couple others) that will always have weekend demand for regular push-pull consists so they can't just give one vehicle class's maint staff the weekend off. The coach, loco, and DMU maintainers have to show up for work all the same.

So even if you fault the operator for just being sloppy and putting together too many over-long, weekday-length consists in the yard or overstaffing too many conductors on those runs (with overstaffing and car length inefficiency becoming their own mutually-supporting excuses), that's still under the category of administrative waste. And a negligible bloat-over-baseline at that. I am sure that if there were too many conductors on a Sunday shift and they were running DMU's that the same # of staff would find their way out on the road all the same. Things like that, and things like 6-car trains when there should be no more than 4 are admin efficiency things the operator can either care about (Keolis?) or not care about (MBCR). The drag effect from caring or not caring will manifest itself all the same on push-pulls or DMU's.


Getting more value out of the weekend is going to be an offensive, not defensive proposition. Revenue, not cost. So it really does make a difference which areas--be it the ones with in-season attractions to promote or the cities like Worcester and Lowell more heavily promoting their attractions in the Boston media market's listings--want it bad enough to promote this. Until the Cape Flyer revelation no one's really tried in a substantial way to chase a native weekender audience on the commuter rail. It has always been a firmly commuter peak/off-peak operation that made little to no assumptions about off-peak demand. The state doesn't know its weekender demographics very well at all.

They kind of need to get on that ball with that if off-peak DMU service is going to be a regular thing, because that barely fleshed-out plan has a lot of risk for service regressions if they can't easily tell the difference between a weekday afternoon and a Saturday afternoon walkup and the stop profiles that lead to individual stations having divergent weekday off-peak vs. weekend utilization. If they can't wrap brain around that, it's going to be difficult for them to stick faithfully to maintaining that 'killer app' of clock-facing schedules key to the "Indigo" branding. They'll either become tempted to cut back on weekends, or maybe weekday nights vs. weekday midday in too broad a stroke systemwide. On justification of too much revenue bleed (which is partially true), but really because they just don't understand well enough what time periods the ridership profile changes and for what reasons their motivations change. Sure...I bet the Track 61 dinky kicks butt on the weekend. But are they going to be rudely surprised if the Lowell Line has an acutely exaggerated divide Anderson vs. the intermediates on weekend boardings. Or if Chelsea and Lynn look especially moribund because the Wonderland buses run so much faster on weekends, but they whiff on a huge missed opportunity for escalated Salem weekend boardings. Or if Riverside and the outer Newton stops really tail off but the bus transfer stops like Newton Corner and Allston/New Balance have much lower drop-off. Do they have a good enough understanding of the weekend audience to make micro-adjustments if necessary and avoid making broad-strokes decisions that end up unfairly kneecapping demand.

It's important to figure this all out, because not every line is going to fit the same profile weekday vs. weekend, weekday off-peak vs. weekend off-peak. Not on push-pull or DMU. It's a significant change from the rigid way they've dilineated service to-date based on monolithic assumptions of a single "generic commuter" profile. There is no better place to start for profiling the audience than places where they can use the Cape Flyer-esque data collection they're familiar with and survey the in-season demands. Kingston/Plymouth, Greenbush, Newburyport/Rockport are definitely golden for that. So is Fitchburg in ski season. So let's see some talks with local stakeholders about promotion, let's see some Cape Chamber folks talking to their colleagues in other beach areas about best practices, let's see some T personnel crawling those lines with clipboards doing weekender surveys, and let's see some more bike car trials while they've got the glut of cheapie extras on the roster. Then scale up from there to urban reverse destinations...what do Worcester and Lowell civic leaders have as ideas for promoting weekender travel, and what time slots does this most matter. Then hone it further and really drill down hard in prep for the DMU rollout. What are the differences between park-and-ride and neighborhood walkup stops on the weekend? Is the demand asynchronous at bus transfer stops vs. regular neighborhood; do the park-and-rides along some roads (I-93) have heavier demand than others (Pike)? How does demand at the college stops rate on the weekends...is a commuter school like Framingham or Bridgewater State going to be lower-than-normal off-peak demand on weekends vs. weekdays, and are primarily dormitory schools like Wellesley or Brandeis or Dean College likely to see a spike weekend off-peak vs. weekday.

ALL of that needs to be crunched to see where the exploits are. Especially for the DMU's. They haven't even begun here. I think the place to start is Kingston/Plymouth since that has the most Flyer-esque weekend profile. And then work from there to the other weekender lines, eventually giving Fitchburg a full winter survey after Wachusett opens and the upgrades are complete for exploiting the Wachusett and Nashoba Valley ski areas. As for Needham...I do think they need it back on weekends on at least a temporary basis for the Route 128 reconstruction because the town's natural north-south orientation for local travel is going to be under stress 7 days a week for a 2-year duration. The Highland and Kendrick overpasses will get lane-squeezed while 1/2 of each bridge is torn down and rebuilt, the Central Ave. underpass likewise, and the Highland and Route 9 interchanges are getting radical makeovers. That goes under the category of necessary-and-humane mitigation for very invasive construction on every northeast-oriented thoroughfare from downtown to Newton & Wellesley. Don't punish them with no other options. Reinstate the trains with a guarantee that it'll last until the 128 project's completion, and survey it while they've got the opportunity. If the ridership's no better, then move on and concentrate the energy elsewhere after 128's done.

That's a pretty reasonable short-term itinerary. Plymouth this summer, Needham when MassHighway finishes Dedham and sets up shop north of the town line, Fitchburg during the first ski season after all construction is complete. Don't just wholesale reinstate or throw out new weekend slots, but systematically get a handle on the audience this time so the next time they have to make a major schedule change it isn't cumbersome systemwide panic cuts that hurt some places disproportionately or throwing resources away on stops that don't need the slots vs. stops that do. Ultimately if they want the DMU plan to work and they want weekend service to justify its existence they've got to get a lot smarter about picking their spots and maximizing them on the revenue side. Operating costs just aren't changeable enough at the baseline to pull enough tricks to make a satisfactory difference. It's a revenue-based solution, not a cost-cutting solution.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby Teamdriver » Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:47 am

TomNelligan wrote:There would have been a lot more potential for summer tourist ridership to Plymouth if commuter service had been restored all the way to the former end of track near the downtown waterfront district rather than only to Cordage, which is too far from the harbor for most people to walk. The same outskirts-versus-downtown limitation applies to Newburyport, where the big park-and-ride lot on Route 1 is a great station location for commuters but not for tourists from Boston headed for the waterfront.

Indeed , some of the track is still in place almost to the waterfront ,at least to the parking lots . Most of the land adjacent to the tracks is vacant , and for sale too . And the abandoned walmart hiding the rail station at Cordage park is a dis-service to the whole ambiance of the rail tourist theme. This is just wasted potential , like letting fruit over ripen and rot on the tree. It is a hidden jewel , but Plymouth seems to want to promote the Gatra bus and not the train. Shameful
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby fitch77 » Sun Feb 23, 2014 7:13 pm

The MBTA could fill up weekend trains while increasing revenue by using supply-based pricing.

This article, http://www.wickedlocal.com/x1641165684/ ... ekend-pass, suggests that an attractively priced weekend pass would make sense for the commuter rail:
Los Angeles’s Metrolink $10 weekend pass has nearly doubled weekend ridership since it was introduced in July, 2011.

Ideas for increasing MBTA weekend ridership while offsetting revenue loss:
  • Lower offpeak fares or weekend pass.
  • Free weekend parking at commuter rail stations. Many commuter rail lots are nearly empty on weekends, so it seems like ticket revenue gains may exceed any revenue lost from parking.
  • Raise weekday parking rates at stations that are at 100% capacity.
Benefits:
  • Off-peak train service is more affordable, reduced greenhouse emissions from less driving.
  • Revenue decrease should be offset by increased ridership as well as increased revenue from weekday parking.
  • More weekday parking available at parking lots that previously filled up early.
What are effective ways to advocate for commuter rail service improvements? Is the participating in the Rider Oversight Committee ( http://www.mbtaroc.com/ ) worthwhile?
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby djimpact1 » Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:19 pm

fitch77 wrote:This article, http://www.wickedlocal.com/x1641165684/ ... ekend-pass, suggests that an attractively priced weekend pass would make sense for the commuter rail


I think that's a great article, and it does have a sensible scenario in there (at least on paper). The problem with citing that article is, it's written by the same retired engineer (Richard Prone) who wrote the article I started this thread off with...so as much as I back weekend service & weekend passes, it's a little biased to have all these proposals come from one source.
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Re: Push for reinstatement of weekend Commuter Rail service

Postby Arborwayfan » Wed Feb 26, 2014 11:52 am

Chicago Metra has or had cheap weekend fares. I think SLC might. It's a sensible idea that should be pushed by places like Rockport (lovely little weekender business district right by the station), the Boston Children's Museum, and so on. Maybe let online attractions advertise free or cheap on trains and in stations, the way railroads (and the MTA, at least) used to advertise on-line destinations? On the platform at Lynn: 5 days a week you ride into town. On the weekend, try riding out to Rockport, Newburyport, Salem, whoever wants to advertise at cost.
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