Communicating the Chaos: Decoding the MBTA Green Line Shutdown  

By Alison Reip, Jess Petro, and Sandra Rosado

In recent years, riders of the MBTA have been no strangers to severe safety incidents that have undermined faith in the service. Encouragingly, however, the MBTA is acknowledging the substantial work that must be done and is taking steps to return service to acceptable standards.  

Gradual upgrade and repair efforts have been taking place for months on various T lines – one of the largest and most recent pushes being the January Green Line shutdown (which came on the heels of another week-long Green Line shutdown at the beginning of December). As this plays out, working to reinstate trust from commuters should be paramount for officials. Meeting the public’s desire for transparency and real-time communication will help alleviate tensions felt by both commuters and MBTA officials as the work is performed.  

To further understand how well the MBTA has communicated and what officials can do to better support its riders around these shutdowns, I sat down with three IMG staff members who use the Green Line to learn more about their experiences.  

Alison (Green Line B train rider) 

When everything is running perfectly, I can get to Park Street in 35 minutes. During the shutdown at the end of 2023, I spent several days following the suggested alternative route, which consistently made my commute about an hour.  

I’m enrolled in the MBTA text alerts, so I received notification of the shutdown about two weeks ahead of time, but I’m not sure everyone knows about them. I believe the T could push to enroll more commuters in this program. Additionally, I think the MBTA could improve communication infrastructure at the above ground stations by adding digital signs to catch attention well in advance. On top of this, the T could have conductors or automated announcements on the train announcing upcoming closures during commutes.  

Jess (Green Line B, C, and D train rider) 

The shutdown doubled my commute and there was not much communication regarding alternative routes beyond shuttle buses, which would include two trains and a bus. The inconvenience of it all made me not want to leave the house or use public transportation, and I found the alternative route they suggested to be really inefficient. The employees were nice and helpful, however.  

It was shocking to learn that there are no good direct routes into downtown Boston from my neighborhood beyond the Green Line. It seems like a serious gap. If people did not know to actively seek out MBTA updates, they absolutely would not be informed on shutdowns, as signage and wayfinding were lacking. Clearer signage should have been posted much earlier in advance at every station, and T drivers should have made announcements.  

Sandra (Green Line B and C train rider) 

I found out about the shutdown through the calendar graphic posted in The Boston Globe. It was the most helpful image to understand, compared to the MBTA website.   

When the Green Line shut down in January, my commute changed dramatically. What would take me 45 minutes on a good day became an hour, to sometimes an hour and 20-minute commute consisting of the Green Line, a shuttle bus, and then the Orange Line. While I think the route options and changes were communicated, I don’t think they were made clear enough for the people who aren’t as familiar with how to find the MBTA information. The MBTA website is not user friendly, and signage was nonexistent. Yes, there were signs for the shuttle buses at their respective stops, but in other stations, there was nothing.   

The MBTA can improve their communication by putting new operating maps in their stops, spelling out all routes, and creating graphics specifically for people who use the Green Line to reference. It’s also important to note that nowhere did I see announcements in another language. Everything online and in person was in English, further demonstrating a lack of importance for language access.  

The demand for a greater MBTA communication effort is apparent. Lack of signage and disjointed communication through their social channels strongly demonstrate a need for communication uniformity and accessibility. On top of this, the absence of signage offered in different languages severely burdens non-English-speaking residents and visitors.   

Based on my conversations, there are clear steps the MBTA could take to improve its communication, including:  

  • Conductors or automated messages announce advanced updates.  
  • Post signage around bus and T stations – and in more than one language.   
  • Inform riders of the option to sign up for text alerts, and to follow the MBTA on social media to stay in-the-know.  

Rebuilding trust is a long process that effective communication can facilitate. And while it does not solve infrastructure needs, improving communication efforts can certainly bridge the divide between frustrated commuters and MBTA officials.  

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