The Boston Foundation releases major report on ridership on the Fairmount Line

Ridership has almost tripled in recent years, but much can be done to increase usage

April 26, 2017

BOSTON–A major report from the Boston Foundation shows that years of advocacy and $200 million in investments in new stations and infrastructure over the past 10 years are beginning to yield significant returns, with a near tripling of ridership since 2012. The Boston Foundation’s report, Increasing Ridership on the Fairmount Line, researched and authored by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, identifies the next steps for the Fairmount Line’s evolution. The report includes more than 20 recommendations for increasing ridership among the 115,000 residents currently living near the line in Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park—who have some of the longest daily commutes in the Boston area. The recommended projects and strategies are designed to build a strong foundation for providing high frequency service and spur economic development and job access for Fairmount Corridor residents.

“Delivering quality service on the Fairmount Line is critical to addressing the inequities of our city,” said Rep. Evandro Carvalho (D-Boston). “Residents in the Fairmount corridor have argued for years that they deserve better transportation, and improving the line offers an avenue to make that happen. This report is a testament to the transformative nature of the Fairmount Line. I am confident and hopeful that we can soon see the true potential of this line realized.”

Paul Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation, added, “Of course, this isn’t just about access to transit; it’s about access to opportunity for all residents of Greater Boston. The Fairmount Line serves the region’s communities of color that are struggling with high unemployment rates and low incomes. Behind the statistics, however, are people. People determined to live and raise their children in neighborhoods that are diverse, vibrant and safe.”

In June, 2016, Nelson/Nygaard and community residents conducted the first complete Fairmount Line ridership count since 2012—which was before new and refurbished stations opened along the line. The count found that Fairmount Line ridership has increased to more than 2,250 riders per weekday, a 186 percent increase over four years. The report shows that Fairmount Corridor residents use public transit to get to work at a higher rate than do residents living within a half mile of MBTA subway stations overall. In addition, more middle and high school–aged children live within a half mile of a Fairmount Line station than any MBTA subway line. More than twice as many people board transit (of any kind) within a half mile of the Fairmount Line than within a half mile of the planned Green Line Extension to Somerville (36,400 vs. 17,900).

The report also shows that Fairmount Line riders use the service more like a subway or local bus line than a commuter rail line. A quarter of all Fairmount Line trips are between stations outside of Downtown Boston—a rate five times higher than the MBTA commuter rail system average. Around 40 percent of Fairmount Line trips are off-peak or reverse-peak, more than on any other MBTA commuter rail line. Using the Fairmount Line can significantly reduce travel times for Fairmount Corridor residents. The Fairmount Line provides significantly faster service between Fairmount Corridor neighborhoods than local bus lines—reducing travel times on local trips by up to 50 percent. It also provides faster and more reliable service from station areas to Downtown Boston and many secondary business districts, especially on trips that otherwise require a “three-seat ride.”

A number of recommendations for increasing Fairmount Line ridership are made in the report. The first is to equalize Fairmount Line fares by providing free transfers to all MBTA services. Fairmount Line single ride tickets do not include free transfers to MBTA subway or local bus services—doubling the cost of a trip compared to other transit options. That extra cost leads many Fairmount Corridor residents to rely on slower, less reliable local bus lines. The monthly LinkPass, some Student Passes and the Youth Pass are also not valid on the Fairmount Line—discouraging riders from using a more efficient option.

The report recommends that the MBTA should quickly work to equalize Fairmount Line fares, potentially with a limited-time free fare program. As the agency transitions to a new fare collection system (AFC 2.0), the Fairmount Line should be fully integrated with the subway and local bus system, providing seamless free transfers and pass products that work across all service.

Other recommendations focus on marketing the Fairmount Line through natural Fairmount markets beyond South Station–bound commuters. Students use the line to get to and from school, and residents of all ages ride between local stations. Previous marketing ignored these natural markets, instead appealing only to rush-hour commuters. Campaigns targeting students and riders making local trips—potentially coordinating with Boston Public Schools and local businesses—could significantly stimulate Fairmount Line ridership.

Fairmount Line stations—typically a five- to 10-minute walk from nearby neighborhood centers—often lack visibility. Attracting riders requires safe and accessible connections to station areas and clearly communicate service information. The report suggests that the City of Boston should invest in high quality amenities for people walking, biking and taking the bus to and from Fairmount Line stations. It makes the point that wayfinding signage and real-time information can draw local residents to Fairmount Line service—and showing Zone 1A stations on the MBTA System Map would highlight the line’s benefits thought the region.

Another recommendation is to extend Fairmount Line service south to Legacy Place in Dedham to increase access to jobs. The Fairmount Line serves significantly fewer jobs than other MBTA services, and lacks a strong secondary employment center to generate additional ridership. Using an existing track connection to extend Fairmount Line service south to Legacy Place is a unique low-cost opportunity to directly serve a new regional destination, providing neighborhood residents access to thousands of jobs with travel times reduced up to 50 percent, as well as a regionally accessible Park-and-Ride option for inbound commuters.

Finally, the report makes a number of long-term recommendations. It suggests that, for the Fairmount Line to achieve its potential, the community, the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must commit to a broad long-term vision for the overall Fairmount Corridor. This vision should center on intensive, Fairmount-centric development and full integration of the Fairmount Line with the broader transportation network.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of some $1 billion. In 2016, the Foundation and its donors made $100 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of more than $107 million. In celebration of its Centennial in 2015, the Boston Foundation launched the ongoing Campaign for Boston to strengthen the Permanent Fund for Boston, the principal endowment fund focused on the most pressing needs of Greater Boston. The Foundation is proud to be a partner in philanthropy, with more than 1,000 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, think tank and advocacy organization, commissioning research into the most critical issues of our time and helping to shape public policy designed to advance opportunity for everyone in Greater Boston. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), a distinct operating unit of the Foundation, designs and implements customized philanthropic strategies for families, foundations and corporations around the globe. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit or call 617-338-1700.