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The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Title VI Circular (C 4702.1B) requires large transit providers to collect demographic, travel, and fare payment data about their riders using passenger surveys at least every five years. This website presents the results of the most recent Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) systemwide passenger survey, conducted by the Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) of the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) between 2015 and 2017.
The survey responses were obtained through a combination of an online form that was available from late October 2015 to May 2017 and a paper form with mail-in option, distributed at MBTA stations and on board MBTA vehicles from March 2016 to March 2017. Approximately one-half of all completed forms were submitted by each method.
The paper survey forms were available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Cape Verdean Creole, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, French, and Vietnamese. The online survey was available in all of these languages plus Haitian Creole. All versions included the same questions. Download a sample copy of the English version of the survey here.
The survey plan called for obtaining responses at the route level for bus and ferry routes and at the station or line-segment level for all other modes. A goal was to obtain, at minimum, sufficient responses from each route, station, or line segment to meet statistical requirements for a confidence level of 90 percent with a confidence interval of 10 percent. The sample sizes for each route, station, and line segment include responses from all respondents who used the given route, station, or line segment during their reported trip, including stations at which respondents transferred between lines.
In cases where the number of responses was insufficient to meet these standards, results from two or more routes or stations serving the same general area were combined. In cases where routes or stations could not be combined with similar services, the results for each question with an insufficient sample size are not reported. However, these responses are included in the mode-level totals, and they are included in the line-level totals for commuter rail, rail rapid transit, and Silver Line.
To compensate for differences in response rates when comparing results from different lines or modes, the published results for each route, route group, station, or station group are weighted in proportion to typical weekday total passenger boardings on the corresponding services based on recent count data.
More detailed information about the methodology can be found in the survey report here.
The report also contains a comparison with the previous systemwide passenger survey conducted in 2008–09. The results of the 2008–09 survey are located here.
Questions about the following topics were not asked directly on the survey. The results were derived using respondents’ answers to other questions on the survey, as explained below.
Trip purpose was determined based on the answers to “Where did this trip start?” and “Where did this trip end?” Trips that started or ended at home were classified as home-based trips, with the trip purpose determined by the type of place at the non-home end of their trip. Trips that neither started nor ended at home were classified as non-home-based trips.
Access to first MBTA service includes access modes to the specific MBTA service for all reported trips in which that MBTA service was the first service used in the trip. It also includes egress modes from the MBTA service for all reported trips in which that service was the last service used in the trip. In the survey summaries, access and egress modes for each station or bus route are shown as a combined total.
The majority of commuter rail trips that were surveyed started or ended at North Station, South Station, or Back Bay Station. The access mode results for these stations are different than the access mode results for other commuter rail stations, with North Station, South Station, and Back Bay Station having much larger walk access percentages. Because most commuter rail trips start or end at these stations, the access mode results at the line level reflect the dominance of the walk access mode at these stations.
Previous transit mode (trips with transfers) was determined based on the previous MBTA service for trips that included more than one MBTA service. The previous transit mode represents the transit access mode to the specific MBTA service for trips with transfers. It also includes egress modes from each route or line that was not the last MBTA service used in the trip. The subsequent transit mode represents the transit egress mode from the specific MBTA service for trips with transfers. In the survey summaries, access and egress modes for each station or bus route are shown as a combined total.
Vehicles per capita were determined for each respondent based on the answers to usable household vehicles and household size. Vehicles per capita were calculated by dividing household size by the number of usable household vehicles for respondents who answered both questions.
Low-income status was determined for respondents who provided their household income. Household incomes of less than $43,500 were classified as low income. The low-income threshold was set at 60 percent of the median household income for the MBTA service area from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS). Respondents who did not answer the household income question or selected “prefer not to say” could not be classified and were not included in the calculation of low-income percentages. The systemwide survey low-income percentage was 29 percent.
Minority status was determined based on the answers to the race and ethnicity questions. Respondents were classified as having minority status if they self-identified as a race other than white and/or were Hispanic or Latino/Latina. Respondents were classified as not having minority status if they self-identified as white and no other race and were not Hispanic or Latino/Latina. All other respondents could not be classified and were not included in the calculation of minority percentages. The systemwide survey minority percentage was 34 percent.
Responses at rail stations that serve multiple lines were analyzed by line where the sample size was sufficient. The rail rapid transit and Silver Line display shows the results at each of these stations by line and the total at each station from all lines. The commuter rail display only shows the total at each station from all lines. The downloadable files include the results at these stations by line. The line-level results on the commuter rail display exclude the results from passengers using other lines at stations that serve multiple lines. For example, the results for South Station in the commuter rail display include the responses for all commuter rail passengers that use South Station, while the results for the Fairmount Line only include the South Station passengers who used the Fairmount Line.
The following caveats related to specific questions should be considered when interpreting and using the data.
Trip frequency refers to the frequency with which the respondent made the reported trip using the MBTA.
The alternative modes and race questions were asked as “check all that apply,” so the answer options total more than 100 percent. The alternative modes question asked about other ways respondents made their reported trip.
Trip purpose can vary by time of day or day of week. The paper survey distribution was focused on peak periods to achieve the desired sample sizes most effectively. The survey results may be biased for trip purposes that occur in peak periods. Therefore, the relative differences in results by station or line should be analyzed, rather than the absolute values.
The gender results suggest a disparity in the response rates between women and men rather than such a large difference in the actual ridership population. Given this bias, the relative differences in results by station or line should be analyzed, rather than the absolute values.
The fare results differ from the percentage of fare payment types recorded by the MBTA’s automated fare collection system. The survey results show larger percentages of respondents using monthly and 7-day LinkPasses than does the automated fare collection system, suggesting a bias toward frequent passengers. This bias may affect the results of other questions as well.
The ability to understand English results cannot be assumed to provide an accurate measure of the percent of MBTA riders with little or no English proficiency. English proficiency is related to the language in which respondents took the survey, and 99 percent of the returned survey forms were the English version. The results do not account for people who speak languages other than those represented on the forms. The results also do not account for non-English speakers who did not complete the survey because they initially saw it in English.