Boston’s transit woes give bike-share program a boost

The month-long shutdown of a major subway line in Boston is sending riders scrambling for other modes of transportation — and that includes bikes.

“The last three days have seen the highest ridership ever on our bike share. Every day is a record,” Vineet Gupta, director of planning for the Boston Department of Transportation, said during a panel discussion on August 31. The discussion was led by the Urbanism Next Center, a transportation and urban design research institute at the University of Oregon.

The City of Boston has its own bike-sharing operation, known as Bluebikes. The micromobility system has been running for about ten years and can be found in all neighborhoods of Boston. The city contracts out the day-to-day operation of the service to a private sector provider.


The bike-share program is part of a larger patchwork of transportation options in Boston to encourage residents to choose virtually any mode of travel other than a personal car, with the overall goal of making ensure that residents and workers choose public transport, Gupta explained.

However, since mid-August, when the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) initiated a month-long shutdown of the Orange Line, riders have been traveling in the other direction, foregoing public transit and taking bicycles.

“There are many people who have chosen the bicycle as a mode of transport to get to work or wherever they need to go. And we hope this habit will remain once the orange line returns,” said Gupta, who added that bike service has been made free during this disruption, as long as the journey does not take more than two hours.

It should be noted that MBTA has taken other steps to mitigate the disruption. The transport agency has deployed a fleet of 160 to 200 free buses to serve the Orange Line route. The Orange Line typically carries about 60,000 to 70,000 people a day, according to MBTA statistics.

Taking an entire subway line out of service for a month isn’t typical, MBTA officials say. But it was necessary for the level overhaul and the upgrades the route needed.

“Given the volume of work we wanted to do on the Orange Line, we felt we had an effective number of projects … to justify this month-long shutdown,” Steve Poftak, MBTA’s chief executive, told the Transport Committee in August. 31 meeting.

“It’s not about one or two isolated work teams on the orange line. This is a fully mobilized orange line with multiple work crews in multiple locations,” he added.

Large disruptions like this “provide the opportunity for the public sector to take specific actions, to try to adopt this mode-switching behavior and to incentivize to encourage this mode-switching behavior,” Gupta said, also highlighting the transportation disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted a number of changes in Boston and other cities, ranging from experiences such as “slow streets” to redesigned delivery areas .

“We built miles of dedicated bus lanes in Boston last year,” Gupta offered as an example, noting the city’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

When the Orange Line reopens on September 19, riders can expect safer, faster and newer trains.

“We’re on schedule, overall,” Poftak said. “And we were, I would say, cautiously confident about all the work that we’re going to do.”

This article was originally published by Government Technologya sister site of Governing. Both as divisions of e.Republic.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation, and more. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, California.

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