Major revitalization, safety and track replacement projects led to the shutdown of the orange line for a month starting on Aug. 19. During this 30-day shutdown, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority aims to address and fix maintenance problems to return the system to a better state without delays and further construction problems. Amid this serious shutdown and service cuts, Mayor Michelle Wu and other Boston officials urged the Federal Transit Administration to assist. While addressing the issues of service disruptions, Mayor Wu said there are “serious equity, mobility, environmental and economic concerns.”
According to the reports by NBC Boston, beginning this week the MBTA will reduce service on 43 bus routes at various times of the day, while also changing the itineraries of nine buses and the departure times of more than 30 others. Additionally, significant cuts will be made to the Green Line. Wu and her transportation deputy said that, if these changes remain intact for the fall, "the region's transportation future [would be] in jeopardy." As a result, MBTA Orange and Green Line riders will experience a momentous shift in their commutes with the service disruptions.
After probing the MBTA's safety procedures, the Federal transportation officials have said in a highly critical report that "the aging subway system in the Boston area has neglected safety and maintenance while it focused on long-term capital projects for years. This lack of balance is at the center of many of the MBTA's safety challenges." This report was formulated based on a review that was started earlier this year in response to several accidents and other issues with the system. In January 2022, the MBTA board members transferred $500 million from the operating budget to the capital budget to increase safety and improve services. While the transport authority's priorities are fixed regarding these objectives, the infrastructure and hundreds of staff positions have continued to deteriorate. The recent Orange Line train catching fire above the Mystic River makes the safety woes evident.
A 90-page document issued by the FTA advises the MBTA to make immediate changes in the areas of “managing the impact of operations, maintenance and capital project requirements on the existing workforce, prioritization of safety management information, effectiveness of safety communication, and operating conditions and policies, procedures and training.” The report also suggests that the failure to meet these mandates will result in the state agency losing federal funding.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said that riders rely on the agency for everyday smooth commuting to work, to tourist attractions and to attend to medical emergencies. His team is committed to working on the directives proposed by the Federal Transit Administration. The MBTA also set up a Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office to develop and carry out solutions to the FTA report's recommendations. This office will report directly to Poftak with workforce management and safety culture updates.
"Magnifying the impact of chronic underinvestment in infrastructure, these cuts underscore the MBTA's continued inability to address critical systemic staffing issues," said Wu in a statement. The MBTA has failed to get people to operate its bus fleet, despite giving a recruiting bonus of up to $4,500 and other recruitment initiatives.
Without the Orange Line service, commuters have few options to get around the city. Instead of the T, free shuttle buses are available between Oak Grove and Haymarket, as well as between Forest Hills and Back Bay. With partial Green Line service shut down, buses operate between Government Center and Union Square Station. Boston residents are alerted to brace for the unpredictable delays and traffic congestion with around 200 buses on the streets.