The Topline - The Commuter Rail, Going Nowhere, Late

Keolis, the French firm that operates the commuter rail for the MBTA, is seeking to have more than $430,000 in fines for late trains waived, as reported by the Boston Globe. The story notes that only 35 percent of commuter rail trains ran on time in February. But in fact, this figure understates the problem. And some commuter rail lines are bearing much more of the brunt than others, according to MBTA performance data.

Keolis has said the system may be running a "service recovery schedule" until March 30. This modified schedule last week included just 58 of the 84 trains scheduled in the average January week for the morning peak period, a 31 percent reduction in service even before on-time figures were calculated. That means fewer trains are running, with longer waits between them and more riders squashed on board.

What's more, the on-time performance figures are based on this reduced, service recovery schedule, not the full schedule that runs most mornings. Of the 58 morning trains scheduled, just 21 were on time. Fewer trains running makes the percentage of trains actually running on time look bigger. But the 21 morning trains that ran on time last week is only 1 better than 4 weeks ago, when 20 ran on time. The only difference is the current schedule is much more modest.


The effect on service levels has been dramatic. Four commuter rails lines are running at half their weekly schedule or less. The Haverhill Line, near and dear to our hearts at The MassINC Polling Group, is running a single train back and forth each day during morning rush hour. Normally, it runs six. Adding insult to injury, that one train was on time just 50 percent of the time last week, according to the most recent data available. Taking into account service levels and on-time performance, Haverhill Line commuters have had it worst, by a wide margin, losing both largest number and the highest percentage of scheduled trains.

commuter rail

These figures are not entirely complete. The Commuter Rail has been running extra service on some lines, announced on the morning of. This isn't scheduled service, so it does not figure into the 35 percent on-time performance figures calculated by the MBTA and reported over the last few days. It also means that such trains only pick up those with the flexibility to take a train which is not announced until the last minute.


The T: Less terrible for most

The Commuter Rail's struggles make the T subway system's recovery look miraculous. But while the T is back to running trains to all its stops, service has suffered from a lack of vehicles. While official figures are not available, Garrett Quinn of MassLive has been doing the yeoman's work of tracking down how many functional cars each MBTA service has available. The figures show that, bit by bit, most of the system has come back to life. The laggard has been the Orange Line trains, which until several days ago was running with less than 70 percent of its cars.

Coincidentally, the northern end of the Orange Line overlaps with the Haverhill commuter rail line. That means those living along those two services, in Melrose and Malden, have the worst of both worlds of the T. Abandon hope, all ye stuck between Malden Center and Cedar Park.

- Steve Koczela is President of the MassINC Polling Group. He lives in Melrose.


Nerd Alert Event Alert -- TONIGHT

MPG's Research Director Rich Parr will be talking all things polling, data and politics at the Downtown Boston Rotary Club. The event is free for first-time Rotary attendees.

2016 Presidential Primaries...

Public Policy Polling sees the Scott Walker surge continuing, finding him with his first clear lead. Quinnipiac finds him ahead in Iowa among GOP caucus goers as well. Even National Journal's Ron Brownstein is impressed with his broad support at this early stage.

Even so, there's still plenty of reason to be skeptical of Presidential polling at this early stage. Looking back at the 2011 frontrunners brings back fond memories of Presidents Perry, Cain, Gingrich, as HuffPollster reminds us. Michele Bachmann led in Iowa in the a number of polls in summer of 2011, and came in 6th place, with 5 percent of the vote.

All in all, The Atlantic's notes early polling is better at weeding out nonviable candidates than it is at picking a winner.

And anyhow, Amy Walter writes the GOP cannot win the White House with just the white vote.


... and polls that actually mean something right now

Massachusetts consumer confidence surges to the highest level in 12 years, finds MassInsight.

Governor Baker has released county-level data on opioid overdoses as part of an effort to combat the problem. We found the previously available data lacking back in April of last year.

Congress ended up funding the Department of Homeland Security Friday night, but if it does end up shutting down, Mark Blumenthal says the polling on whom Americans would blame is shaky.

A new poll by NPR, Harvard and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explores perceptions of what factors contribute to health.

In the wake of recent comment on the issue from Pope Francis, Reuters finds that framing climate change as a moral issue appeals to two-thirds of Americans.

A new Pew poll finds that Democrats are seen as more empathetic and less extreme than Republicans, but Americans actually prefer the GOP position on many issues.

At Vox, Ezra Klein argues that political moderates are "largely a statistical myth," while Matt Yglesias has a long think piece about why American Democracy is doomed.


- - - - - - - - - - - - -#NerdAlert Tearline: Multimedia Edition! - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Videos of the NEAAPOR data fabrication event are now online.

And for data nerds, here is the Commuter Rail's morning performance, broken down by line, for the last week February.