Study: T needs to release a comprehensive reopening plan, or Boston may see more drivers

The study cited a poll that found 28 percent more people said they would drive versus using another form of transportation.

A transit employee holds a box of masks in the lobby of the Ashmont Red Line station on June 22.
A transit employee holds a box of masks in the lobby of Ashmont Station on June 22. –Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe

A recent study indicates that without the MBTA releasing a strong, comprehensive plan for reopening, the findings of a recent poll suggesting that the state may see a shift from the T to people using their personal vehicles could become a reality.

And with more cars on the road, there could be “crippling roadway congestion.”

A Better City, a nonprofit that analyzes Boston in terms of transportation, development, and environmental practices and energy, conducted the study by considering the MBTA’s practices when it comes to safely reopening during the COVID-19 era, including a reopening plan, the distancing of riders, availability of hand sanitizer, and use of face coverings.

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Considering five other transit agencies, the T ranked fourth out of six.

For comparison, the organization considered the MTA in New York, the CTA in Chicago, BART in San Francisco, SEPTA in Philadelphia, and the WMATA in Washington, D.C. The study ranked New York the highest with Chicago in second place, and BART and SEPTA tying for third. Below the MBTA, and in last place, was Washington, D.C.

In terms of cleaning and disinfecting, the MBTA “ranked above average” because of its “rigorous practices.” The category looked at how often stations and vehicles, as well as high-touch areas, are cleaned, and if the agency is using different technology for disinfection.

The T also was found to be “excelling” in workforce management. For this category, the study looked at the safety of drivers and those that work within the stations. The best practices included health checks, rear-door boarding, and the ability for riders to pay online.

But in looking at comprehensive reopening plans, the MBTA was below average, A Better City found, though the agency was recognized for online communication and its new Ride Safer campaign. A comprehensive plan is important, the study suggests, because it helps riders feel more confident. For example, San Francisco’s BART put out its “15-Step Plan to Welcome Riders Back” on May 27.

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The T was recognized for its Ride Safer campaign, which includes information on its “transit ambassadors” who are positioned at stations, cleaning and disinfecting practices, and the availability of bus crowding information online.

“The MBTA should develop and communicate a thorough reopening plan to ensure that the MBTA is doing its part to create a safe commuting environment, while em-powering riders to be part of the solution,” the study says. “The detailed reopening plan should be complemented by an enhanced Ride Safer campaign that is multi-lingual, multi-media, riderfriendly and leverages the MBTA website, social media, traditional media, MBTA property frontage, and private sector partnerships.”

Without it, A Better City cited a MassInc poll that found 28 percent more residents would use their cars, while 35 percent less would ride the subway.

“On balance, residents expect to drive or walk more, and use all types of shared or public transportation mode less,” MassInc said.

The T should also give out face coverings for free and use methods for physical distancing when at full service, as well as implement passenger limits and spread out riders when they’re in stations as well as aboard one of the MBTA’s vehicles, the study said.

In response, the T indicated that there are still far fewer riders than before the pandemic and that workers are watching for crowding on different modes of transportation. There’s also hand sanitizer and cleaning spray and wipes at various places along the system.

“While the MBTA has already taken many steps to protect the health and safety of riders and employees with increased cleaning and enhanced customer service initiatives, the agency will continue to develop and implement additional measures this summer,” a statement from a spokesperson said.

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