With record-breaking snowfall and extreme weather conditions this winter people in the greater Boston area have dealt with seemingly endless commutes. Nearly everyone has had to spend two to three times as long as normal getting to and from work immediately after each storm. For weeks, local commuters’ choices have been to deal with major delays and shortages on public transportation or drive on roads clogged with extra cars and too much snow.
The MBTA, the Boston area public transportation provider, has received enormous amounts of criticism this winter due to months of delays, cancellations, and reduced services. Passengers, especially monthly pass holders, have been angry since they have not been able to depend on public transportation to get to and from work.
There has been debate over whether or not the MBTA should refund its passengers for their monthly passes since services have been reduced or cancelled most work days since late January (the MBTA will be running reduced services until March 30). Here at Crimson, we’ve taken a look into what people are saying about these topics on Social Media.
Are riders angrier than in past years? Yes and no. We have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of conversation surrounding the MBTA and service in comparing this winter to last. As shown below the number of total posts more than doubled, from just over 50,000 from February 1st to March 1st of 2014 to nearly 125,000 total posts in the same period of 2015.
More passengers have been following the MBTA Twitter handle, both to receive service updates and alerts as well as complain and criticize service issues. We can see this trend by observing the dramatic increase in followers of the MBTA official Twitter account since the beginning of the year. On January 1st 2015 there were nearly 89,000 followers, surging to 116,359 on March 11, which is a 42% increase.
Despite the increase in volume of conversation around the MBTA, the percentage of negative conversation has only increased a small amount. The amount of negative sentiment in conversations surrounding the MBTA from February 1st 2015 to March 1st accounts for about 66% (with 34% general positive sentiment). For the same date range last year, the negative sentiment accounts for about 55% (while 45% is general positive). What’s the main difference? Complaints rose dramatically on the few days with major delays and cancellations. These comparable levels of sentiment indicate that MBTA passengers are feeling consistently dissatisfied with service and are simply more vocal on the worst days.
Although passengers have been extremely vocal about their disapproval of limited and unreliable service from the MBTA, many of them also understand that refunding monthly pass holders will only worsen the issue. Upgrades to the infrastructure have taken longer than planned, the area has endured the worst snow accumulation in 20 years, and funding will be key to allow the MBTA to do everything it can to prevent this from happening again. Therefore, in analyzing social media conversation around this major mode of transportation we know people around Boston want reliable transportation, and refunding monthly passes will make it far more difficult for those much needed improvements to happen.
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