It’s too early to tell how soon — or how many — workers in Greater Boston will return to using the various commuter rail lines that snake out of the Hub.
The pandemic forced the MBTA to close some lines and greatly curtail service in others. But as the vaccination rate has gone up, the coronavirus infection rate has dropped and more businesses have partly or fully reopened, the trains began running again, including resumption of weekend service on all rail lines, as of last weekend.
The T suspended weekend commuter rail service in January on the Fitchburg, Franklin, Greenbush, Haverhill, Kingston, Lowell and Needham lines because of reduced demand caused by COVID-19. Weekend service continued on the Newburyport/Rockport, Framingham/Worcester, Fairmount, Providence and Middleborough lines.
The T made a big deal early on about its efforts to clean subway, bus and commuter rail cars. T officials and ad campaigns urged people to wear masks and practice social distancing to keep riders and T employees safe.
Now, with things improving from a health standpoint, weekday traffic on major roads into Greater Boston has picked up dramatically. More office buildings have fully reopened and work life, in many cases, has returned to pre-pandemic conditions, albeit with more hand sanitizer bottles in evidence.
Gauging when the ridership numbers will get anywhere close to pre-pandemic levels on commuter rail lines is anything but a science; it’s almost impossible to survey former riders who, so far, have decided not to resume commuting by rail. Many of them also might have permanently switched to remote work or are required to make only occasional trips into the city for work — not the five days a week routine of old.
According to a report by CommonWealth magazine, the MBTA says weekend passenger numbers have been relatively high on the lines that continued operating, which is a good sign.
On the Newburyport/Rockport line, for example, the T said ridership on a weekend in mid-May hit 81% of the pre-pandemic average, while the Worcester line tallied about 64% of the weekend average before the pandemic began in the spring of 2020.
Let’s all hope those numbers, along with weekday ridership, continue to recover. The T’s offer of $10 tickets for unlimited travel across all lines for one weekend is worth trying for commuters who want to see for themselves how riding the rails again might just be the way to go.