One year after the Greenbush line made its debut on the South Shore, the commuter rail line still seems to be struggling to gain a foothold.
One year after the Greenbush commuter rail line made its debut on the South Shore, it’s still struggling to gain a foothold.
While there has been a slow uptick in passengers on peak morning commutes, even during these high-traffic times the trains typically run at less than half their capacity, according to figures from the MBTA.
A recent morning commute attracted 2,118 passengers, for instance, well short of the 4,740 potential seats available on the five morning trains. The numbers – about two-thirds of what the MBTA had once projected – come ahead of Friday’s anniversary of Greenbush’s debut. At the time, MBTA officials said it would take at least a year to judge the line’s effectiveness.
The 45 percent increase in Greenbush’s ridership over its first 10 months is well short of the jumps for the other two Old Colony lines, from their first day running to figures 10 months later: Ridership on the Kingston/Plymouth line rose 104 percent, and Middleboro ridership soared 153 percent.
“A year later, it really is a good time to say how is this working out. And that number’s a little grim, to be honest,” said John Bewick, who with his wife, Martha Bewick, opposed the Greenbush project.
MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said the T did not make any ridership projections for the first year.
1,440 commuters rode the morning trains on Oct. 31, the first day of paid service.
1,379 average number of riders during the morning commute in November 2007
2,001 commuters on the morning trains on Jan. 30
1,817 average number of riders during the morning commute in July
2,118 passengers during the morning commute Sept. 24
4,740 capacity on all trains for the morning commute
But the Bewicks say they distinctly remember the numbers: Ridership was estimated at 8,200 people a day, with about 3,200 passengers during morning and evening commuter hours. Past Patriot Ledger reports show the same estimates.
Nonetheless, Grabauskas called the steady climb in riders “very good news” and also pointed to an increase in cars at Greenbush lots: from 18,262 in December 2007 to 26,740 in September 2008.
“The T is extremely pleased that more and more people are choosing to commute by train,” he said. “Not even a year old, the Greenbush line has become the preferred transportation alternative for thousands of residents.”
Al Bangert, the former Greenbush liaison in Scituate, said he has noticed more cars in the town’s lots, seemingly in correlation to the hike in gas prices.
Greenbush was proposed as a way to help ease the frequent logjams on Route 3, but many residents have wondered whether the increase in rail ridership is a true reflection of cars coming off the roads.
“A goodly number of people I know switched from boat to train, but I’m sure that some riders are new to public transportation,” Bangert said.
The number of commuter boat passengers on the Hingham and Quincy/Hull lines fell from 96,901 in September 2007 to 78,597 a year later, according to the MBTA.
When the T recently proposed to pare down commuter boat service because of the drop in use, it created a stir among residents who said the T had promised them prior to Greenbush it would not do so.
Comparing ridership on Old Colony lines
Greenbush opened on Oct. 31, 2007, with much fanfare. Within 10 months, the rail line’s ridership increased 45 percent. The ridership on the Middleboro and Kingston/Plymouth lines – which both opened in October 1997 – rose much faster in their first 10 months.
The T took the proposal off the table a few weeks ago.
The Bewicks fought the Greenbush project early on because they didn’t think the demand justified the cost. They thought the T could better put its resources elsewhere – say, in extending the Blue Line to Lynn – to benefit all taxpayers.
Martha Bewick pointed to the financial strain and debt obligations the T now faces.
“The real issue is, was (Greenbush) the extravagance that really was the final straw that broke the back of the MBTA? That’s the question nobody really wants to address.”
Reach Jennifer Mann at email@example.com.