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Commuter rail will allow bikes on all trains as part of new schedule changes

"This update will help passengers make connections to a growing network of shared paths, cycle lanes and open streets."

Bikes parked at a commuter rail station in Littleton. Lane Turner / The Boston Globe

With ridership on the MBTA commuter rail still just a fraction of its pre-pandemic levels, passengers will soon be able to make use of the extra space.

Keolis, the company that runs the commuter rail for the MBTA, announced Wednesday that bikes will officially be permitted on all trains as part of schedule changes that will take effect Nov. 2.

“This update will help passengers make connections to a growing network of shared paths, cycle lanes and open streets,” Keolis tweeted, referring to the “shared streets” initiatives that have gained popularity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the wake of the COVID-19 business shutdowns this past spring, the MBTA commuter rail saw a 99 percent decrease in single-use ticket purchases. And of all of the MBTA transit services, commuter rail ridership has been the slowest to recover. During a meeting Monday, officials said ridership has creeped up to around 12 percent of its pre-pandemic levels — and it isn’t expected to fully rebound for at least several years, according to projections.

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Keolis spokesman Justin Thompson says the “decision to permit bicycles reflects lighter ridership and service patterns that now offer more evenly distributed trains throughout the day.”

“Passengers are reminded that face coverings are required when riding all MBTA services,” Thompson told Boston.com in an email Thursday. “On Commuter Rail, all coaches will remain open to afford passengers distance and passengers should download the mTicket app for contactless purchases and fare validation. Bicycles must be attended at all times and may not occupy a seat or prohibit the movement of other passengers.”

It’s yet to be determined if the new bike policy is just a temporary measure as long as ridership remains low or a more permanent change (previously they were prohibited on certain lines during rush hour). According to Keolis, it will be reevaluated sometime around May in advance of the next schedule adjustment.

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Still, it’s perhaps a blip of good news for commuter rail passengers, as the MBTA considers future service cuts in order to balance dramatic, pandemic-induced budget shortfalls that will likely take a heavy toll on the regional network. Some options include eliminating weekend service on “some or all lines,” cutting weekday service short at 9 p.m., reducing frequencies, and even closing certain stations.

The schedule changes that take effect Nov. 2, however, include increased mid-day service across many lines and more regular trains on the Fairmount Line, as well as to Brockton and Lynn, as MBTA officials work to “accommodate traditional ridership while also adapting service where commutes have changed,” such as staggered work schedules. The new schedule will also add express trains serving Worcester and Framingham.

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