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Behind the scenes with MBTA data.

In the past few weeks we have kept you updated about MBTA ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic on this blog, and we plan to keep updating the blog regularly as long as there is something to discuss. You can read previous posts here, here and here

If you’re just looking for the total ridership by line and by station, you can download that data here. This link will take you to a Box folder where we update each day with the validations grouped by line, or by station. (Last updated 7/28):

Download data here

 

We would like to reiterate that Governor Baker has issued a stay-at-home order, non-essential business are closed, and we would implore our riders to respect this and stay at home whenever possible. In the Governor’s words: “Just because the T is open does not mean we think it’s a good idea to take the train downtown to meet up with friends. 

By limiting the use of public transportation to essential activities, we will not only slow the spread of the virus – but we will better protect our health care workers, grocery store workers and others who are working every day to keep us safe. 

Everyone is advised to stay at home and limit all unnecessary activities.”

Please see the continuously-updated page here for the latest updates on how the MBTA is responding to the pandemic: www.mbta.com/covid-19

Around the Country

Other transit agencies have also had their ridership greatly affected by the pandemic. While not all agencies are sharing data publicly and frequently, we did a quick look to find other data points. If you have seen reporting from another agency (or you work for an agency) feel free to reach out at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

BART in San Francisco is seeing a ridership drop of 94% and WMATA in D.C. has had rail ridership and bus ridership drops as much as 96% and 82%, respectively.

The CTA in Chicago has kept normal service on five of its eight rail lines even with an 82% decrease in system ridership, while New York’s MTA is running on its “Essential Service Plan,” which preserves most peak service and eliminates some lines on weekdays after experiencing an 87% rail ridership drop and a 60% drop for bus.

Translink in Vancouver, BC, especially, has seen a sharp decrease in bus ridership with an 82% drop.

The Data

Our usual ridership reporting includes factors to account for passengers who we do not observe through our automated equipment, and we usually wait at least a few weeks before reporting anything due to the delay in transferring data from our vehicles. We also conduct in-person counts to verify automated data and improve accuracy for our end of year reporting. 

We did not have time to do our normal analysis and reporting, so we had to focus on the best sources we have that were reasonably representative of the system. So we focused on two data sources for this post: Counts of validations at gated stations from the fare collection system and bus ridership estimates from automated passenger counters. Because these sources usually have extra processing and QA/QC done as noted in the previous paragraph, all ridership estimates in this post should be considered very preliminary and subject to change.

Rapid Transit

To examine ridership on the rapid transit system, we used validations (taps or ticket insertions) at the 64 gated stations in the MBTA system. This data came from the fare collection system and is not adjusted to account for passengers who enter the gates without interacting with the equipment (this can be children, fare evaders, or people who enter when the gates aren’t functioning). 

We set up a special data transfer to gather the total validations by day, and then grouped them by station and by line. For stations where passengers can board multiple lines, we use a rough “split” factor to assign riders to each line (For example, at Park St, we estimate that 54% of people entering the gates are then going to board the Red Line, and 46% go on to board the Green Line).

Ridership since 3/24:

Ridership has continued to slide steadily down since the governor’s order to close non-essential businesses, and now is under 40,000 validations per day. We are seeing similar distribution between lines and stations as we did at the beginning stages of the pandemic.

On weekends, ridership has also dropped, but not to the same extent as weekdays when compared to “normal” times. Saturday validations on April 11 were 64% of the previous week’s weekday average, and Sunday validations were 47%. This compares to Saturdays usually being about 51% of weekday taps, and Sundays having about 38% of the weekday number (using calendar year 2019 data). 

Bus

Overall bus ridership shows similar trends over time as gated stations, though the drop since 3/24 is less steep. We are seeing ridership on buses drop by about 5% per week since the Governor’s order. Please note that these data have fairly high margins of error, so looking at overall trends is more useful. Some of the challenges in the data are accounting for buses with lower samples of APCs, and accounting for additional trips that were added which were not part of the schedule programmed into the software on-board buses (“run-as-directed” trips). 

Ridership last week was around 80-85,000 passenger trips per day. 

Here are the top 20 routes by ridership and their change from our baseline week. The geographic trend in ridership change is similar to previous weeks. Route 116 (asterisked) has significantly less certainty than other routes due to low APC coverage.

Ridership by Time of Day

Last time, we took a look at how ridership on gated stations had changed from our usual weekday patterns. In the following chart, you can see the difference in trips on our buses between the baseline week and Friday, April 10:

Note that the above chart likely undercounts ridership where we have added additional RAD (“run as directed”) trips on routes and times with high demand. But, you can see the new pattern of ridership pretty clearly. On buses, we see a single peak around 3 PM, and steady ridership throughout the day with the peak just slightly higher than the rest of the day.

We will continue to update you on MBTA ridership at this blog as things progress. If you’re looking for something to do while you stay at home, why not take a look at some of the datasets on our Open Data Portal?