T likely will need government assistance due to COVID-19 crisis, general manager says

Ridership is down about 70 to 80 percent, General Manager Steve Poftak said Thursday.

Tips to prevent spreading germs are posted on a message board at South Station in Boston.
Tips to prevent spreading germs are posted on a message board at South Station in Boston. – Craig F. Walker / Boston Globe, file

With ridership plummeting between 70 and 80 percent, depending on mode of travel, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the system will likely need some form of government assistance when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

The T collects nearly $700 million from fares annually, he told Radio Boston in an interview Thursday.

However, he said that a government bailout isn’t something he and other T officials are considering “on a day-to-day basis.”

“It is something we’re going to need to sit back and assess,” he said. “I do think there is going to have to be some level of assistance. I also think, given the societal impact of this, there’s going to be plenty of entities that are going to need assistance as well, so I would say it’s early … for us to be doing that, but it is something we’re going to think about longer term.”

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The T began running on a reduced schedule for most types of transportation on Tuesday. Since then, there’s been some modifications due to reports of crowded trains and buses. He said it’s something T officials will “continue to evaluate.”


Crowding on the 111 bus


Over the past couple of weeks, Poftak said the T has worked to figure out how to keep the system running under the current circumstances.

When asked if the T will continue its capital improvements, Poftak said the organization is “attempting” to keep it “on track.”

“I think we are always going to prioritize safety,” he said. However, he added that the people who perform the improvements are the same ones who do system maintenance.

“At some point, we’re going to run out of resources,” he said. “We’re going to need to have those folks solely prioritized. So we’re hopeful we can get through this and continue the aggressive capital campaign, but obviously we’re going to prioritize safety, and we’re going to prioritize service, as well. It remains to be seen how long we’ll be in this mode.”

When asked if MBTA workers may be designated as emergency workers so they can dip into the handful of childcare facilities to remain open once most close next week, he said it isn’t “currently envisioned.”

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He said workers are continuing to show up for work.

“We are trying to be understanding,” he said. “We do need folks to show up and they are showing up, and we’re very grateful for that.”

 Poftak said one of his concerns is whether he’ll have a large enough workforce to keep its vehicles running.

“Part of dropping the service level down is, this is the level of service we believe we can run reliably for a significant portion of time,” Poftak said.

Listen to Poftak’s full interview:


Drone footage captures the nearly bare streets of Boston

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