Study says MBTA needs stronger coronavirus reopening plan, or more people might opt to drive

Report says MBTA could do more to keep riders safe, prevent spread of virus

BOSTON — A recent study evaluating the safety protocols of transit systems during the COVID-19 pandemic ranked the MBTA second-to-last out of six transit systems, only beating the WMATA in Washington, D.C.

The study was conducted by Boston-based nonprofit A Better City and compared the practices and safety measures the MBTA and five other transit systems are implementing to help economies safely reopen during the pandemic.

Boston was outranked by the transit systems in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

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“Public transportation has the potential to create transmission hotspots—so the implementation of public health mitigation measures is critical,” the authors of the study wrote.

One area where the MBTA fell short is in physical distancing requirements. The study found other peer transit systems have plans that require riders to stay at least 6 feet apart. It also found other transit systems have clear markings in stations and on buses and trains.

Researchers said the MBTA does not have those markings, nor does it have the 6 feet distance requirement, and only encourages riders to stand at least 3 feet apart.

The researchers warn that not having a solid reopening plan in place could lead to more traffic on the roads, as people who once took public transportation opt to drive to work in order to avoid potentially unsafe situations.

The study also knocked the MBTA’s new “Ride Safer” campaign that launched two weeks ago, saying it falls short compared to other transit systems in being a comprehensive reopening plan.

The MBTA ranked above average in cleaning and disinfecting, providing protective gear to staff, conducting regular health screenings, and its best practice for requiring rear-door boarding on buses.

The study was conducted at the beginning of Step 2 of Phase 2 of Massachusetts’ reopening plan, and the MBTA has expanded service since then.

“There are many lessons that the MBTA can learn from peer transit agencies,” ABC authors wrote. “This report recommends that the MBTA take a suite of additional actions, including: developing and communicating a comprehensive reopening plan; enhancing the frequency of disinfection and experimenting with new disinfection technologies; scaling up to full service and expanding “on demand” bus service; widely distributing free face coverings or masks throughout the system; encouraging physical distancing through capacity limits, signage and seat markers, and enhanced crowding information; expanding distribution of hand sanitizer for riders; and continuing its leading workforce management practices.”

An MBTA spokesperson said the T has taken a number of steps, like increased cleaning and disinfection and customer service initiatives like real-time crowding on select bus routes to keep riders safe and “the agency will continue to develop and implement additional measures this summer.”

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