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Report Warns of Potential Risk in Surging MBTA Ridership

According to a recent study from the Urban Land Institute, an increase in the number of riders and construction projects around existing transit stations could overwhelm the system. The Boston branch of the nonprofit-a leading land-use think tank-has warned that ridership could increase 20 percent by the end of the decade. The estimate is supported by recent figures which highlight a trend of continued growth in the number of MBTA passengers. There were about 390 million transit trips in Greater Boston last year-the most since 1946.

The implications of this trend are worrisome. Aside from limiting future development in the region and slowing the economy, overcrowded public transit could pose more serious safety concerns. Overcrowding, without the relief of more subway cars, better power and signal systems, and other necessary measures, could increase the risk of accidents or injuries occurring. According to the report, issues such as delays and bottlenecks are especially likely in “hot spots” where ridership is highest.

The predictions also highlight the relevance of the current debate over spending, which is split between repairing the aging system and extending it to new communities. According to The Boston Globe, the MBTA already has a repair and replacement backlog of over $3 billion and cannot afford to keep up with new problems at the system’s current rate of growth. Since transit is not financially self-sufficient, the debate is also framed around sources of funding, which will be a key issue for legislators in the near future.

For many riders, the concern is more immediate. As Richard Feeney of Brighton noted in an interview with the Globe, “At its current operating capacity, I don’t think the heart of downtown can handle it,” adding that the surge of people packing onto cars as the doors close is also dangerous.

Surging MBTA ridership could overwhelm system, report warns, The Boston Globe, June 14, 2012