‘We’re ready’: MBTA GM talks one-on-one about safe return of commuters

BOSTON — As many of us exchange beach bags for backpacks and briefcases, the MBTA claims it’s ready for the return to public transportation.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak spoke recently with Boston 25 Traffic reporter Catherine Parotta one-on-one and said ridership is bouncing back, though it’s still lagging.

“We’re ready not only for the folks who have been riding throughout the pandemic, but we’re also ready for the folks who are coming back who maybe haven’t been on the T in a long time. We’re ready, we have plenty of service out there,” Poftak said.

Last year in a survey by “A Better City” business coalition, 38% of Boston employees said they planned to drive to work alone in their own cars when they returned to the office. But this past spring, that figure dropped to 28%.


The MBTA says it will run at 93% of pre-pandemic levels this fall. Poftak says riders are spread more evenly across the day now, rather than the typical morning and evening rush of years past.

“We’ve moved our bus service around, so that the places where we have the highest ridership, we’ve added service. In some cases, we have more service now than we did before Covid. On the subways, we’ve added service in the midday and early afternoon because we’re seeing different commuting patterns and on the commuter rail, we’re on a regional rail schedule which is hourly service throughout the day,” Poftak explained.


The service changes haven’t come without criticism. The T acknowledges that service isn’t back to full pre-pandemic levels. Poftak says staffing has been an ongoing challenge.

“We have very aggressive hiring goals for this year,” Poftak said. “The more employees we get, the more service we can put out.”

Poftak says keeping the existing workforce healthy is another challenge. In January 2021, the MBTA had up to 115 active Covid cases according to Poftak. In August, that number was in the single digits.

“We’ve provided free testing throughout the pandemic. We offered a vaccination clinic. We are encouraging all of our employees to get vaccinated,” Poftak added.


When it comes to cleaning, Poftak says vehicles are getting cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis every night.

“We’re also fogging them, electrostatic fogging them every two weeks. We’re doing cleaning at our stations right now. The cleaning standard is the touchpoints at the core subway stations are cleaned and disinfected every four hours. We anticipate keeping up a really robust cleaning regime through the fall,” Poftak said.

Poftak says the MBTA did a lot of research analyzing different cleaning technologies before choosing a protocol that is both effective and won’t damage equipment in the long run.

The MBTA is also asking every customer and every employee, when they’re using the MBTA, to wear a mask.

“We are ready for folks to come back. I know there are some folks who may not have taken the T since March of 2020. I really want to encourage them to give the MBTA a try,” Poftak concluded.

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