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Boston public transit adjusts to coronavirus changes with limited service

The moves—in effect and lasting indefinitely—come at a precarious time for the T’s role in the region

A subway sign in Cambridge’s Kendall Square stop, with commuters walking by. Shutterstock

Starting on March 17, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will be running limited or otherwise altered service on all subways, trolleys, buses, commuter rails, and ferries. The changes are due to efforts to stem the spread of novel coronavirus.

The moves come amid a precarious time for the region’s seemingly always-precarious mass transit system. Delays and funding issues have plagued it for years, though they seemed to come to a head in June 2019, when a Red Line train derailed just south of the JFK/Umass stop.

That touched off not only weeks of delays, cancellations, and repairs, but a long debate over improving the T in particular, especially since the region’s vehicular traffic is so congested. The system was seen as more essential than ever for the fast-growing region and yet woefully neglected.

Now that debate is taking a back seat to the more immediate efforts to combat coronavirus. Local governments as well as the state and federal governments are encouraging people to avoid crowds for the foreseeable future—including those, apparently, on mass transit.

“While some of these changes are inconvenient, they maintain a responsible balance between protecting the health and safety of the MBTA workforce and our customers, and our goal of continuing to run safe and reliable service without major disruptions,” MBTA General Manager Steven Poftak said in a release.

The release also noted a recent drop in ridership, likely due to coronavirus and that desire to avoid crowds.

So, starting March 17, the Red, Blue, Orange, and Green lines will operate on a more limited Saturday schedule all the time. Service on all commuter rail lines is limited. The Silver Line and most bus routes are also operating on limited service. Express bus routes 325, 326, 351, 352, 354, and 501 will continue their regular weekday service. And there are no ferries back and forth from Hingham and Hull.

There are no changes, however, for the RIDE, the MBTA’s service for people with physical challenges. The agency is encouraging people to use its trip planner before heading out. You can also try these apps for charting your next route.

And the MBTA says it is more regularly cleaning and sanitizing its vehicles and stations to fight the virus. Plus, as of March 21, the agency is asking that riders board at the rear doors of buses and street-level trolley stops. Seniors and people with physical challenges can still board at front doors.