Title media by
Garrett Diegnan

As students settle back into campuses, they are once again filling the trains and buses of Boston. However, this has been a bumpy ride, with the T-line improvements falling short of some expectations. Unfortunately, riders notice issues with the system’s infrastructure, schedules, safety and transparency. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, also known as the MBTA, is responsible for serving its riders, which is why there must be significant improvements. 

Recently, major changes were made to the Orange Line in order to improve riders’ overall experience during a month-long shutdown due to several concerns discovered from federal inspection including trains catching on fire and extremely slow trains. Major changes to improve safety included upgraded tracks and signals, replaced vehicles and increased capacity for passengers. During the shutdown, riders had to arrange for different modes of transportation which made it more difficult for them to travel to work, school, home and other places they needed to go. After the Orange Line continued its normal routes, riders quickly noticed that previous issues were still not resolved because many of their scheduled trips were still not arriving on time. This begs the question: is it a matter of a lack of resources, workers, or reliable equipment? Is there anything that could be done to fix this?

Massachusetts Avenue T-Stop at Night. Photographed by Garrett Diegnan.

Justin, a 5th-year Civil Engineering student, expressed his issues with the newer Orange Line, arguing that the shutdown was not long enough and that they only focused on getting the new trains in, but failed to improve the infrastructure. 

Justin explained that the MBTA uses its budget to implement “flashy things,” such as the new trains, but does not invest in improving productivity. There are major delays due to the fact that there are still older rails and equipment. Since the Orange Line continued its operations, there are still speed restrictions. Important updates need to be made to the infrastructure in order to make rides smoother for riders. This would ultimately be costly and time-consuming to fix, so the city of Boston might be reluctant to go through with such changes.

Bus Route 1 to Harvard. Photographed by Garrett Diegnan.

Much of these issues are also noticeable with the buses, such as the low frequency of routes. “It is understandable how there are lots of delays with buses because there are many routes in Boston and there is currently a labor shortage,” said Rei, a fourth-year business student and former president of Northeastern Institute of Transportation Engineers, or ITE. 

There have also been consistent complaints about arrival times, especially regarding the Green Line and Commuter Rails. The Green Line is both underground and passes through streets which means it has to adhere to the traffic lights. Justin suggested that there should be transit signal priority because the trains should not have to wait for the light to turn green to proceed on schedule. Needing to wait for a green light hinders productivity because the next train on schedule will eventually catch up to the delayed train. 

It is understandable that there are fewer modes of transportation late at night into the early morning because of a decrease in traffic. However, there are concerns for the safety of riders when their train or bus is not arriving for a longer period of time, especially with a disproportionately high rate of harassment in the street and train stations towards women. There needs to be more trains and buses at night to prevent unsafe situations. 

Red Line Train. Photographed by Garrett Diegnan.

Justin suggested installing a barrier between riders and the tracks for rider safety throughout the United States. Platform screen doors only open when the train arrives and stay closed when there is no train to stop riders from falling onto the platform. Having nothing to block people and the platform has proven to be harmful with the different amounts of injuries and deaths. Riders have either accidentally fallen or been pushed into the railway. According to the New York Post, almost 50 people were killed by subways or were found dead on the train tracks. The New York Times also reported that 22 people were pushed into the subway tracks between 2021 and 2022. These injuries and deaths could be avoided if there were platform screen doors which are found in major cities in other countries, such as Japan, South Korea, and Canada. Transportation systems in the US should also begin installing platform screen doors to ensure rider safety.

More issues also accumulate with the lack of effective communication and understandable signs. While there continues to be construction and renovations around the city, transportation by bus has also shown to be a struggle. Around Boston, there is improper placement of signs, and people do not know if there was a change with the bus that they are currently riding in. Rei talked about the difficulty in hearing the announcements on trains and the confusion in navigating the connections within the train station. 

The Green Line in Motion. Photographed by Garrett Diegnan.

Another problem that contributes to transportation inadequacy is the CharlieCard. Some other major transportation systems, such as Philadelphia, have their own app in which a rider can register their card, add money online, and view their balance and previous trips. The New York City Subway System allows for contactless pay via Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Fitbit Pay. However, for the MBTA there is no app to connect to their CharlieCard. Instead, there is the mTicket app which can only be used for Commuter Rail tickets. Not being able to easily and quickly view how much money they have left could lead riders to overestimate or underestimate how many more rides they are able to take. It's also more sanitary to use contactless forms of payment, as opposed to having to touch the ticket screen at the station to add value to your CharlieCard.

There need to be significant changes to make the MBTA experience more convenient and simple for riders. The pressing issues of groundwork, transportation frequency, safety and communication must be addressed by the City of Boston. Many citizens rely on public transportation as their main mode of transportation, so renovations to improve the transportation system need to be a priority of the city. Public transportation systems are a service to the people and should not be carried out as a business for profit.