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"Year of MBTA Shutdowns" Create Growing Frustrations

Boston’s MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) will shut down Green Line service for 23 days in January to improve reliability, leaving more than 750,000 commuters to find an alternate mode of transportation into the city. The shutdowns have led to frustrations among those who use the public transit service to go to work or school daily.


The repairs started on November 27 with the possibility of lasting throughout 2024, aiming to eliminate all slow zones. Also known as speed restrictions, slow zones are areas where the trolley has to travel at slower-than-normal speeds to avoid derailment due to track wear and tear. In the past 30 days, there have been 143 restricted areas measuring 21.7 miles, according to the MBTA.

The prevalence of slow zones gained national attention when Rita Jeptoo, the leader of the 2014 Women’s Boston Marathon, outran the train on live television. Since then, the issue has only accentuated over time.

Most recently, riders of the newly constructed Green Line Extension, which connects Somerville to the system, were outraged to discover that the tracks were poorly constructed, requiring the train to operate at slower speeds than walking. The extension was shut down in June 2023 to widen tracks that were just under a year old, but WBUR reported the problem resurfaced during September.

When the Boston Globe first broke the news about the Green Line Extension, users on X, formerly known as Twitter, made jokes about it while others expressed their frustration.

“When my wife first told me about this, I was convinced it was a parody, because surely things can’t be that bad,” Patrick Cahn said in a comment to the Boston Globe. 

With slow speeds come train delays and fewer trains that can’t keep up with the number of riders, which reached a new post-pandemic peak in November. On the MBTA’s Reliability Dashboard, which measures the wait time between trains, it was reported that the E train measured 47 percent and the D train 56 percent during December.

The reliability score was impacted by the 104 reported delays on the MBTA’s X account. This left only two days in December when no delay was reported. The delays include 43 from the Green Line, 16 from the Blue Line, 9 from the Orange Line, and 36 Red Line delays.

In early November, MBTA officials stated that $24.5 billion in investment would be needed to bring the  system into “a state of good repair.” Wait times only increased when the Green Line shut down, replacing all services with shuttle buses.

Bella Jones, a 19-year-old student at Boston University, depends on the Green Line for her daily commute. She observed that her commute was disrupted while waiting for buses during the first scheduled shutdown, which coincided with her final week of classes. “There wasn’t really a schedule we had to know when the shuttle was coming or going,” she said.

In a press release dated December 7, the MBTA stated that riders should “anticipate a longer commute and are encouraged to plan additional time to their travel plans” due to buses mixing with traffic. Officials suggested taking the Orange Line instead. However, even then, riders can expect delays and overcrowding, as there are not enough trains running to keep up with demand.

As we enter the “year of the shutdown”, riders can anticipate more delays and disruptions as Boston’s primary form of transportation grapples with reconstruction. On January 12, most B and E- train services will shut down, leaving commuters with no alternative but to use crowded shuttle buses.

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Tags: Boston MBTA Orange Line Red Line Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Green Line


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