MBTA Bids Farewell to 2023 and Welcomes the New Year with Momentum: Infrastructure Investments, Workforce Growth, and with Improvements in Commuter Rail Ridership
Posted on December 29, 2023
Updated January 2, 2024.
T expresses gratitude for riders' patience and resilience; recognizes frontline workforce responsible for day-to-day operations.
Reflecting on 2023, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA / Authority) underscored tangible progress in revitalizing the system’s assets and workforce to deliver more reliable service. Under the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s, Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt’s, and General Manager Phillip Eng’s leadership, the MBTA made critical investments to upgrade aging infrastructure, attract talent, and endeavor to regain rider trust – fueling momentum in the Authority’s revitalization.
“The Healey-Driscoll Administration has allowed me the opportunity of a lifetime to lead this great organization as we rebuild and reimagine MBTA service both now and for the future. Our focus remains on improving reliability, enhancing service quality, and, above all else, ensuring safety. I’m proud of our dedicated workforce and the momentum we’re gaining as we work to foster a safety-focused culture committed to public service, strengthen operations, and restore rider trust,” said MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng. “I see the pride on my colleagues’ faces, evidenced as we turn the corner. I’m honored to be on this journey alongside them. As the important work continues in the year ahead, we move into 2024 with renewed determination to deliver the responsive, transparent, and accountable service that T riders deserve.”
While the MBTA continues to build momentum thanks to infrastructure upgrades and new leadership focused squarely on the rider experience, it also recognizes the daily challenges for many who rely on public transportation across Massachusetts when any train or bus fails to meet expectations. The Authority remains deeply grateful for the patience and resilience demonstrated by riders and also recognizes the commitment and dedication of its frontline workers who keep the system running daily despite trying conditions.
“They ride the buses. They take the trains. They offer us invaluable feedback. We know people rely on safe and reliable transportation, and that is why we are committed to delivering them a system that we can all be proud of,” concluded Eng.
As the MBTA revisits the past year’s efforts and looks ahead, several critical achievements in infrastructure upgrades, workforce rebuilding, service improvements, and more illustrate this momentum, which has been included below the fold in more detail:
Key 2023 Highlights
- Accelerating infrastructure repairs to eliminate speed restrictions across the subway system, repair tracks and signals, and continue significant station upgrades;
- Reorganized the entire leadership team, including the appointment of transit and transportation industry veterans to leadership roles;
- Record hiring, which exceeded hiring goals to rebuild workforce capacity and capabilities;
- Improving transparency with riders and the public;
- 80% of the unionized workforce rapidly ratified renegotiated contracts that addressed long-unresolved labor concerns;
- Reopened temporary Lynn Station and restored Commuter Rail train service nine months earlier than initially scheduled; reopened Ashland Station in December to minimize rider impact;
- Launched new Lynn and Winthrop ferry services;
- Enhanced accessibility via upgraded stations;
- Piloted a successful permanent weekday Commuter Rail service between Boston’s South Station and Foxboro Station, paving the way for a permanent service; and
- Established a new Climate and Resiliency Policy and Planning team as part of the Policy and Strategic Planning Division, advancing the MBTA's environmental commitments.
Improving and Maintaining MBTA Safety and Infrastructure
- Track Improvement Program: The MBTA launched its Track Improvement Program in November 2023, a major, bold initiative to eliminate all existing speed restrictions as of November 2023 and bring tracks closer to a state of good repair by the end of 2024. The MBTA’s new program to fix the tracks will involve a wide range of work, including spot repairs, tie replacements, rail replacement, and ballast replacement. The MBTA will also be expanding its engineering teams and engaging specialized rail contractors to execute the work efficiently.
- Hingham Ferry Dock Modernization and Resiliency Improvements: In February 2023, the MBTA was awarded $6.6 million in funding by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for modernization, safety, and accessibility improvements to the Hingham Ferry dock, which provides a key service link between local communities and the Boston Harbor while helping to reduce traffic between the South Shore and Boston. The funding comes as part of the FTA’s FY 2022 Passenger Ferry Grant Program, which aims to enhance and revitalize public ferry systems in the nation’s urbanized areas. The FTA awarded more than $380 million in competitive funding to ferry projects through a trio of discretionary grant programs, and the MBTA received the Passenger Ferry Grant Program’s largest award in the nation.
- Major Contract Award for Track and Signal Upgrades at South Station: In March 2023, the MBTA Board of Directors awarded a construction contract of over $98 million to upgrade the tracks, switches, and signals at South Station, which will result in improvements to the reliability and resiliency of Commuter Rail and Amtrak train service into and out of the station. The project will provide better operational reliability to the MBTA's nine Commuter Rail lines that terminate at South Station and Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and Lake Shore Limited services while improving safety, resiliency, and security.
- Purchase of Widett Circle to Improve Critical Rail Efficiency: The MBTA completed the purchase of Widett Circle in April 2023, a key component in a larger strategy to improve Commuter Rail service and to better meet the transportation needs of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Located one mile from South Station and adjacent to existing MBTA Commuter Rail facilities, the area will be used by the MBTA to improve Commuter Rail operations through new facilities that allow for train storage and maintenance activities near South Station for nine of the T’s 14 Commuter Rail lines, accounting for two-thirds of all Commuter Rail service.
- Safety Department Restructuring: The safety division was restructured in September with the creation of a Safety Department focused on managing Investigations and Corrective Action Plans to drive timely resolution of cases. Work is underway to actively reduce the number of open safety incident investigations. Since July 1, the number of open Corrective Action Plans to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has declined from 29 to 13, and the number of overdue Corrective Action Plans to the DPU has dropped from 12 to five in the same time frame. There has also been a reduction in open Department of Labor Standards cases from nine to three over recent months.
- Railroad Safety Improvements and Upgrades: The MBTA's Commuter Rail system has 246 surface grade crossings. Efforts are underway to enhance safety at these intersections through improvements to road infrastructure as well as technology partnerships with companies like Waze. Crews have added features such as new lane and fog lines, reflective bollards and road markers, and brighter LED lights on crossing gates intended to make crossings more visible to drivers. The MBTA has also collaborated with Waze so that Commuter Rail crossings now appear on the Waze application's maps. Drivers using Waze are alerted in advance when they are approaching a railroad crossing. These efforts improve visibility and driver awareness around Commuter Rail grade crossings.
Rebuilding the Workforce
- Appointment of General Manager Phillip Eng: In March 2023, the Healey-Driscoll Administration announced the appointment of Phillip Eng as MBTA General Manager. A transit industry veteran with nearly 40 years of transportation experience, General Manager Eng has already demonstrated a new way of doing business at the T, from bold infrastructure improvement programs to an emphasis on transparency and culture change to continuous safety improvements and more.
- Established Full Leadership Team: Under the direction of General Manager Eng, the MBTA’s leadership team was restructured in 2023 with transit industry veterans to supplement and build on the institutional knowledge of the existing management. Some new appointments are responsible for stations, infrastructure, engineering, capital program enhancement, operations, quality, compliance, and safety.
- Surpassed Hiring Goals: In 2023, the MBTA exceeded Governor Healey’s hiring target of 1,000 workers, welcoming nearly 1,500 employees and underscoring the transformative impact of the Healey-Driscoll Administration's critical $20 million investment in the supplemental budget. This crucial funding boost provided the necessary resources to fuel ambitious recruitment efforts and built upon the MBTA’s other hiring efforts, like an increase in the sign-on bonus to $7,500 for eligible applicants. Through intentional recruitment efforts targeting Black, Latinx, and Asian American communities, over 50% of the MBTA’s current personnel and recent hires also reflect these groups. These efforts all ensure the MBTA builds a stronger, more diverse workforce that reflects the communities the T serves.
- Union Contract Agreements: The latest agreement with Lodge 264 builds upon other recent collective bargaining agreements reached between the MBTA and its workforce, including an agreement with Boston Carmen’s ATU Local 589 in August 2023, which represents over 3,000 MBTA transit professionals and the Transit Police Association in November 2023, which represents frontline patrol officers. In contrast to past contract negotiations that took years to finalize, these agreements were secured in months, demonstrating the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s and MBTA leadership’s renewed ability to expedite contractual negotiations and achieve significant milestones in a fraction of the time. These agreements also allowed the MBTA to provide competitive wages in a tight labor market in order to bolster its recruiting efforts, proven by the increase in applicants this year.
- Launch of the Online Safety Dashboard: In February 2023, the MBTA launched its online safety dashboard that allows the public to see the status of the T’s progress in responding to the FTA Safety Management Inspection (SMI) Special Directives. The dashboard includes a description of each Corrective Action Plan, what it is intended to correct, the MBTA’s analysis, recommendations, and the status of steps being taken to address the FTA’s Special Directives.
- Launch of the Online Speed Restrictions Dashboard: In March 2023, the MBTA launched a live, online Speed Restriction Dashboard that provides riders with up-to-date information on speed restrictions across the MBTA system. Refreshed daily, the dashboard reports on location, speed limit, when a restriction was put in place, and the reason for the restriction on the Red, Orange, Blue, Mattapan, and Green lines. The dashboard also provides the percentage of tracks under restriction, the distance by individual line or systemwide, and the number of restrictions.
Support Regional Vitality and the Economy
- Reopening the Temporary Lynn Commuter Rail Station and Restoring Service to Lynn Community: The Lynn Interim Station on the Newburyport/Rockport Commuter Rail Line opened to the Lynn community on Monday, December 18, 2023. Construction of the Lynn Interim Station was able to be accelerated, opening the temporary station nine months sooner than previously planned – and at a fraction of the originally projected costs.
- Launch of New Lynn Ferry Service: The Lynn Ferry operated through summer 2023. It was extended through the fall due to popular demand and is expected to return next summer.
- Reopening Ashland Station: Ashland Station on the Framingham/Worcester Commuter Rail Line reopened to passengers on Saturday, December 23. Over $3 million of investment in station repairs and improvements took place, including the complete restoration of the pedestrian overpass, including stairs and walkways; the installation of digital signage; and repaving the striping parking lots. Updated lighting and additional finishing work will also be completed in January 2024. These improvements ensure safe and accessible access for the Ashland community and passengers.
- Federal Funding Award for Advancing Transit Reliability in Chelsea, Everett, Revere: The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awarded the MBTA with $2.96 million in funding for implementing transit signal priority and signal metrics to prioritize buses through 37 signalized intersections in Chelsea, Everett, and Revere. The award is part of the Advanced Transportation Technology and Innovation (ATTAIN) program grant, a $52.78 million investment package under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). In this round, ATTAIN expanded eligibility for projects in communities previously lacking in investments, including rural areas and areas of persistent poverty.
- Permanent Foxboro Service: In October 2023, permanent weekday Commuter Rail service went into effect between Boston’s South Station and Foxboro Station as part of the MBTA’s partnership with the Kraft Group and Patriot Place, MassDOT, and the Town of Foxborough.
- Launch of Bus Priority Vision and Toolkit: In October 2023, the MBTA launched its Bus Priority Vision and Toolkit. Through partnerships with communities and municipalities, bus priority allows the MBTA to make bus transit faster and more efficient through the creation of dedicated bus lanes, the implementation of transit signal priority, and the use of queue jumps. The Bus Priority Vision and Toolkit are complementary resources that are designed to support the expansion of bus priority investments throughout the region over the next five-to-seven years. They provide guidance to municipal, state, and transit staff on planning and implementing bus priority treatments to encourage more regional transit use.
- Commuter Rail Ridership Reached New Post-Pandemic Peak and Exceeded 90% of Pre-COVID Levels: Commuter Rail ridership reached a new post-pandemic peak in October 2023. For four weeks, the average weekly ridership of the Commuter Rail systemwide exceeded 90% of pre-COVID levels. While ridership across the Commuter Rail network was high in October, three lines in particular saw significant jumps compared to their September averages: the Newburyport/Rockport, Fairmount, and Franklin lines.
- Newburyport/Rockport Line Achieved the Highest Weekend Ridership and the Best October On-time Performance Ever: In October 2023, the Newburyport/Rockport Line saw the best overall October on-time performance and highest levels of weekend ridership ever during the Haunted Happenings events in Salem. Extra weekend Commuter Rail service to and from Salem was added as part of the City of Salem’s efforts to encourage people to take public transportation to Haunted Happenings.
- Dedicated Bus Lanes: More than eight miles of bus priority lanes were added to the MBTA service area in 2023. The MBTA led efforts to expand and make permanent quick-build lanes on Broadway in Revere. In a joint collaboration with the City of Boston, quick-build lanes were made permanent on Huntington Avenue and St. James Avenue, and the inbound lane on Washington Street in Roslindale was extended. Thanks to strong partnerships with the City of Boston and the City of Somerville, the MBTA delivered the Summer Street bus/truck lane pilot and East Broadway bus lane under McGrath.
Increase Environmental Sustainability
The MBTA is committed to embracing environmentally sustainable practices. Public transit accounts for less than 1 % of statewide transportation emissions, but despite the relatively small share of transportation emissions, the MBTA is taking proactive steps to mitigate environmental impact:
- New Climate and Resiliency Policy and Planning Office: In August 2023, the MBTA released agency-wide goals, including reducing environmental impacts and increasing the transit system’s resilience. In support of this goal, in September 2023, the Authority announced the establishment of a new Climate and Resiliency Policy and Planning team as part of the Policy and Strategic Planning Division that will be tasked with decreasing the agency’s and the state’s environmental footprint and increasing the resilience of the MBTA system.
- Secured Major Battery Electric Bus Contract: The MBTA secured a $119 million contract to New Flyer of America Inc. for the production and delivery of 80 new, low-floor, 40-foot battery electric buses (BEBs). Supporting the Commonwealth’s Net Zero emissions targets, the BEBs purchased under this procurement will reduce transportation emissions, which will result in better air quality within MBTA communities. The procurement, which is part of the Authority’s fleet replacement plan, positions the MBTA to meet the 2022 Massachusetts Climate Law mandate, which requires the T to purchase zero-emission buses only after 2029 and fully electrify its fleet by 2040.
- Release of RFQ for 3-5 Year $120 Million Renewable Energy Contract: In July 2023, the MBTA Board of Directors approved the release of a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for an up-to-$120 million wholesale renewable electricity supply contract, upgrading the T’s commitment to renewable energy and continuing its leadership in clean transportation. The MBTA also further supported the Commonwealth’s climate change goals and meeting Clean Energy Standard requirements by recommending that 30% of its power be supplied by Massachusetts solar and wind Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).
- New and Replacement Elevators: In 2023, a new redundant elevator serving the inbound platform at Kendall/MIT was constructed. Additionally, a redundant elevator at State Street Station that connects the Oak Grove-bound Orange Line platform to the corridor between the Orange and Blue Lines and an elevator at Quincy Adams were replaced and are now back in service. All four elevators have now been replaced at Quincy Adams, and with redundant elevators serving the platform, it is the eleventh Red Line station to have redundant elevator service in place.
- Major Station Accessibility Upgrades in Progress: Design and/or construction activities have advanced on various Capital projects that also include major accessibility upgrades at over 35 stations across the MBTA’s subway and Commuter Rail network.
- More Transit Ambassadors: In July 2023, a new contract related to providing in-station customer assistance via Transit Ambassadors went into effect, and staffing levels were scaled up. As part of the new contract, in an effort to better support both riders navigating throughout subway stations and Transit Ambassadors assisting riders with disabilities, a full revision of the accessibility training module for Transit Ambassadors was completed and incorporated into the new-hire training program in March 2023. All Transit Ambassadors completed this new training as of July 2023.
- Refreshed Training for Bus Operators and Dispatchers: Throughout the fall of 2023, the MBTA updated its comprehensive accessibility training program for Bus Operators and developed a brand-new, full-day accessibility training for dispatchers within the Operations Control Center.
- Access in Motion: In September 2023, the MBTA launched “Access in Motion,” a pioneering marketing campaign raising awareness of accessibility features and their benefits for all riders.