Boston’s Transit System Feels Effects of Climate Change

By Kenya Hunter

Each day, more and more complaints about the MBTA come to light amid the issues that have taken place as the July fare hikes came to fruition. After two derailments in four days, many passengers and elected officials called for the six percent fare hike to be stalled. As time went on and more passengers got frustrated, the ridership of the MBTA went down by about ten percent. 

But as Boston faces more realities of the medium air quality, longer summer seasons and shorter winters due to climate change, a real question sits at hand. In the midst of climate change, what is the MBTA doing to prepare for potential infrastructure damage?

It seems the MBTA is aware of their issues and possible vulnerabilities. But Joseph Aiello, the chairman of MBTA’s Fiscal and Management board says the state is behind on climate mitigation plans. 

Across the MBTA’s website, it’s easy to find plans about how the transit system will reduce their contribution to climate change. Some of the plans of the MBTA are outlined in its “Focus 40” plan, which the transit system often points to when asked what they’re doing about climate change. Some of these plans include reducing the reliance on fossil fuels like diesel gas and reducing litter at the T-stops.

But as you scour through the internet in hopes of finding out what climate change can do to the actual infrastructure at the MBTA, it does not appear much planning for mitigation has been done. In fact, at a recent Fiscal and Control Management BOard meeting, chairman Joseph Aiello demanded to know why there weren’t many plans for climate mitigation

“The T is fundamental to almost everything that we’re talking about when we’re planning for what kind of future we should have,” said Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu. Wu has been critical of the MBTA, better known as “The T” for years. Especially after the July fare hikes, where she argued that consumers would end up paying more for less. “ If we want to close the income inequality gap, if we want to address racial disparities, if we want to actually achieve climate justice and get more cars off the road and, and give people a chance to get to where they need to go, the T has to be the solution.”

According to the climate vulnerability report, a number of MBTA stations can potentially close due to some effects of climate change. As hazardous flooding becomes more of a monthly occurrence toward the middle of the century, it brings users of the Blue Line’s aquarium station back to the year 2015. 

During this time, following one of the worst blizzards in January 2018, Aquarium station was heavily impacted and shut down completely. Most of the issues of water at the station is blamed for a renovation project of the stop in the year 2000. After this, users started reporting more occurences of seeing water around the station. Most times when there is severe weather, Aquarium station is closed.

“I remember the day, saw it for myself,” said Bill Wilson, an Aquarium station T rider. He actually had a picture of the flood following the blizzard. “There were sandbags in front of the doors.” 

MBTA officials say that fixing the issues at Aquarium station is a multimillion-dollar problem that would take years to fix. But they said they are aware of climate change and its possible impacts on the MBTA and the blue line is part of the climate resiliency program. 

 

Aquarium Station following the 2015 Nor’easter. Courtesy | Bill Wilson

Other impacts for the MBTA also includes the busses. Users who depend on the silver line to get to the airport and into downtown might have to look for another way to get to the airport, as the climate vulnerability report suggests that integral highway bridges, like Sumner and O’neal, might face damage toward the middle of the century due to stormwater damage. 

One of the issues of increased stormwater is its potential to pollute surrounding bodies of water. This is caused by the runoff.

With potential damage to the MBTA infrastructure, Wu says she worries about what Boston would look like with less reliablity from the T. “We’ve seen since the red line derailments, a drop of huge amount of people now just saying I’m done with this,” said the councilor. She says the first step in mitigation plans should be motivated by simple customer service satisfaction techniques. “That involves pushing dedicated bus lanes, right, we could have, we could run bus priority lanes along the red line route and get a lot more people onto those if we were comfortable with eliminating parking on those roads during rush hour.”