MBTA registers overall boost in ridership

1.3m, a notable peak, aboard on weekdays

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / May 31, 2011

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Ridership on the MBTA system climbed last month to its highest number since September 2008, with more than 1.3 million people riding the bus, subway, and commuter rail every weekday.

“Certainly, between the improving economy and folks coming back into the city for jobs and the prices at the gas pump, people are turning to the MBTA as a different way to get into Boston,’’ said Richard A. Davey, the MBTA’s general manager.

The April numbers represent a slight increase over March, which was at the time hailed as the best month for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in more than two years, said Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman.

Last month, an average of 1.313 million people took the T every weekday, a 3.6 percent increase over April 2010 and only the second time the transit system saw daily numbers over 1.3 million in nearly three years, Pesaturo said.

Daily ridership has now grown in seven of the past 10 months, he said.

Shannon Mahoney, 21, has a car but takes the T back and forth to Braintree from her job as an intern at the New England Aquarium, where she is a tank diver. She said she is concerned about rising gas prices, parking, and the environmental impact of driving.

“It seemed like the common-sense thing to do,’’ she said yesterday at Park Street Station on her way home from work.

For Karen Riley of Medford, taking the T comes with an added incentive: Her employer, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, pays for her monthly pass.

“I live right off the Red Line so it’s easy,’’ Riley, 26, said at the JFK/UMass station.

Massachusetts has continued to outpace much of the rest of the country in the recovery. The April jobless rate here dropped to 7.8 percent, down from 8 percent in March, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Gas prices in Boston are around $3.85 per gallon for regular unleaded, according to AAA.

The subway system saw the biggest jump last month. The Red, Orange, and Blue lines had 528,600 daily riders, which is an increase of more than 5 percent over April 2010. The Green Line saw a 6.6 percent increase, to 242,300 daily riders.

Bus ridership is up 11 percent since January 2008.

Davey said the T has done a good job of keeping people informed about real-time bus locations.

“Now customers can use their Droid, iPhone, and BlackBerry to see exactly where the bus is and when the next one is going to arrive,’’ Davey said.

A similar initiative is planned for the commuter rail, he said.

The T also added Wi-Fi Internet service to the commuter rail. Now there is a major focus on increasing cellphone service on the subway lines.

Cell voice and data service are available on the Orange Line end-to-end, the Red Line from Charles MGH through Andrew, and all lines at Park, Government Center, State, and Downtown Crossing, Pesaturo said.

The T’s wireless infrastructure contractor, InSite Wireless Group LLC, of Alexandria, Va., expects to install service in the entire Blue Line and most of the Green Line by the end of the year and in all T subway stations by the end of next year, Pesaturo said.

But the infrastructure is only as good as the service. AT&T and T-Mobile offer 3G service at 17 stations and the connecting tunnels. Verizon operates 3G service in the core four downtown stations only. Sprint and MetroPCS are in talks to deploy service.

Commuter rail service was up 3.6 percent vs. April 2010. Although the numbers last month were roughly the same as they were in March, the commuter rail seems to have finally rebounded from a dismal start to the year, when riders fled from the service in January and February, with one out of every four trains arriving delayed. Those numbers have since dropped to about one in 10 trains late.

Davey said that the commuter rail and Orange Line remain the areas of the system most in need of improvement.

“We need to focus on the Orange Line, which has some of the oldest vehicles we have,’’ Davey said. “And the commuter rail. While we have new locomotives here and on order, we still need to focus on locomotive maintenance. The top reason for delays — 50 percent — are locomotive maintenance issues.’’

Hugh Kiley Jr., general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, said: “We’re recovering from the dismal winter that had an impact on our service and our equipment, and we’re constantly putting our energy into focusing on equipment reliability.’’

Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Neal Riley contributed to this report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at