Relax, this is not going to be another 2,500-word opus, just a few thoughts on how the MBTA’s service delivery standards need to change for Regional Rail. The Regional Rail concept encompasses a significantly expanded rail service over existing MBTA commuter rail, but has to satisfy the needs of existing traditional peak-hours Boston commuters in addition to the intra-urban, suburb-to-suburb, and reverse-peak trips that Regional Rail hopes to enable. The MBTA already has a Service Delivery Standard for commuter rail, which was approved by the Fiscal & Management Control Board in 2017, and not all aspects of it need to change, but some of them do.
- Span of service (page 12)
- Weekdays: 5 AM to 12 midnight in the peak direction, 6:30 AM to 11:00 PM in the reverse-peak direction
Weekends: 8 AM to 11 PM Saturday and Sunday
Rationale: Providing earlier and later service supports service and shift workers whose work day begins before and ends after traditional office workers’ schedules, particularly in the food and hospitality sectors. Earlier service also supports access to Logan Airport for both workers and travelers, as many airline schedules have early departures prior to the first commuter train arriving in Boston, and rail service would reduce the number of automobile trips to Logan and suburban Logan Express bus terminals, as well as parking requirements at both locations, especially on the South Side network with direct access via the SL1 bus from South Station. A later start in the reverse-commute direction allows the reverse-commute service to be operated by returning early-morning trains, providing better equipment utilization and reducing storage requirements in Boston. Extended late evening service enables riders to engage in late-evening activities in the urban core which are not available in many suburban locations, such as dining, concerts, and sporting events, without fear of missing the last train home. Extended weekend service enables more day-trips to destinations like Salem, Newburyport, and Plymouth in addition to the core urban area, and gives returning travelers the opportunity to change to an outbound train at the Boston terminal; it also supports better access to Logan Airport.
- Service frequency (page 14)
- All days: four trips per hour on trunks and two trips per hour on branches
Peak periods: not less than six trips per hour on trunks and not less than base service on branches
Rationale: this is the point of Regional Rail, and also is necessary in order to meet the maximum loading standard with fully accessible, single-level articulated EMUs given the limitations of the fixed plant (notably platform lengths), which are in turn necessary in order to provide the speed and dwell-time improvements that both partially justify Regional Rail and are necessary in order to operate more frequent service.
- Vehicle accessibility (page 19)
- All vehicles shall be 100% accessible, and shall have wheelchair bays sufficient to accommodate all passengers requiring them.
Rationale: access is a civil right.
- Passenger comfort (page 27)
- Peak passenger loads shall not exceed 125% of the seating capacity of a train more than 5% of the time, and shall not exceed 150% of the seating capacity more than 1% of the time. During off-peak periods, passenger loads shall not exceed the seating capacity. Sufficient space shall be available for wheeled conveyances including bicycles, non-powered scooters, and strollers/baby carriages at least 90% of the time, and trips which regularly do not meet this standard shall be so noted on published schedules if crowding cannot be timely remedied. Charging ports and electric outlets in all ports shall function according to the relevant electrical standards.
- En-route facilities (not in current service delivery standard)
- All trains shall have a functioning public wireless network meeting Wi-Fi Alliance standards in effect at the time of installation. Passenger toilets shall be clean, unclogged, and have sufficient supplies.
- Customer convenience (not in current service delivery standard)
- Clockface headways shall be used during all dayparts when fewer than six trains per hour stop at a station. Trips which are intentionally off-headway due to non-MBTA rail traffic shall be explicitly called out in the schedule.
Rationale: When trains come at least every ten minutes, travelers typically do not need to schedule their activities around a train schedule, they can just show up at the station and wait. Typically, when trains are less frequent than that, travelers will need to know the schedule and plan for it; it is much easier to remember that a train comes at :26 and :54 every hour for a broad variety of passengers, including those who do not use mobile phone applications to plan all of their trips. This also enables more spontaneous travel during off-peak periods, improving the utility of the service to passengers and businesses at stations.