‘Why Can't They Fix It?' Some MBTA Escalators Remain Out of Service for Months

They can be essential to make sure that public transit is accessible for all riders, but the NBC10 Boston Investigators discovered the escalators at some MBTA stations remain out of service for months. After a viewer contacted us to look into it, we asked the T why the state of repair at some of these locations seems to be at a standstill

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After three knee surgeries, Maria Termini felt every step ascending the stairs at the busy Forest Hills MBTA station during her commute home from work. Meantime, the adjacent escalator remained out of service for months.

Termini said she tried complaining to T staffers, but the escalator stayed motionless week after week. On social media, riders also expressed their frustration to no avail.

"It just seems like they’re indifferent," Termini told NBC10 Boston. "Why can't they fix it? Why do they take so long to fix?"

Termini reached out to us after seeing our report in March about how the escalators in both directions at the transit hub of South Station had stayed barricaded since late 2022.

We watched as elderly riders struggled up the stairs, travelers from Logan Airport hauled luggage, and parents navigated strollers through the crowd.

Many take public transportation to avoid sitting in traffic, but inside Boston's busy South Station, commuters say out-of-service escalators are bringing rush hour gridlock.

Those escalators, which are the responsibility of the private company that leases South Station from the MBTA, kicked back into gear after we started asking questions.

Termini hoped we could put the spotlight on other stations with prolonged closures.

"When they go out, there's a whole population of people who are disabled or slightly disabled that cannot get where they need to go in a good way," Termini said. "There are escalators all over the system that seem to be down."

After reviewing accessibility alerts on the transit agency’s website and monitoring social media complaints, the NBC10 Boston Investigators took a tour of T stations and had no problem finding escalators that had been out of commission for at least a month.

A few examples: the barricaded escalator at the Green Line's Prudential station; the pigeons making a home at plywood barriers surrounding the escalator at Sullivan Station on the Orange Line; and at Community College, a completely gutted unit that is clearly nowhere close to carrying passengers.

NBC10 Boston
The escalator at Prudential Station was out of order when NBC10 Boston stopped by.
NBC10 Boston
The gutted escalator at Community College Station.

But none of those compare to the escalator at the Blue Line's Bowdoin station.

"I'm angry and frustrated," said Boston City Council President Ed Flynn.

Flynn wrote a letter to the MBTA's general manager last August, saying his constituents had complained about how the escalator had been out for months. He asked for repair work to be a priority, considering its close proximity to Massachusetts General Hospital, and the absence of an elevator at the station.

NBC10 Boston
The escalator at Bowdoin Station

The escalator closure, with the accumulation of leaves, plastic bottles and cigarette butts, was also mocked by riders on Twitter.

"Seasonal colorful art currently on display in Bowdoin Station, best viewed from below to really appreciate dead leaves strewn across escalator steps brings out warm tones of caramel-hued walls," wrote one rider last December.

When we returned to Bowdoin last month with Flynn, he lamented the inertia with the escalator.

"It sends a message that we don't care about them," said Flynn, who has sent another letter about the issue to the MBTA's new general manager, Phillip Eng. "I think about our seniors and persons with disabilities. How are they going to access this station?"

When we reached out to the MBTA, spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the T's new capital investment plan includes funding for the replacement of the escalator at Bowdoin, though no timetable has been scheduled.

According to Pesaturo, corrosion on the escalator's steel truss prevented it from being repaired any further, forcing the shutdown. The replacement with modern safety requirements will require significant alteration to the Bowdoin entrance in order to meet code requirements, Pesaturo said.

"With safety and customer service of utmost importance, MBTA escalators are subject to a robust schedule of inspections and maintenance activity," the T said in a statement. "The high annual rates of escalator availability reflect the effectiveness of the MBTA's escalator maintenance program, including an in-service rate of nearly 98% last fiscal year."

We learned escalators with prolonged closures that are scheduled for replacement, like at Bowdoin station, do not factor into the daily in-service rate calculations.

"These are vital resources," said Bill Henning, the director of the Boston Center for Independent Living. "Any escalator is really an integral part of the subway system. Some people just really can’t go up and down steps for a multitude of reasons."

Years ago, Henning's organization was involved in a lawsuit that eventually brought accessibility upgrades — like elevators — to MBTA stations around Boston.

The capital investment plan also has funding to modernize the safety and control components of old escalators that are not currently scheduled for replacement.

Those needs will only be growing. Records the NBC10 Boston Investigators obtained show more than half of the transit system's 182 escalators are more than 30 years old, meaning they have surpassed their expected life span.

Henning acknowledges there are a lot of competing financial demands to bring the aging system up to speed.

"We hope this will take the same priority as other issues," he said. "We understand they're juggling a lot. But it has to be equitable across the board on where investments are made."

The escalators at Community College and Sullivan stations are undergoing major work that requires significant alteration to the escalators, according to Pesaturo.

In the meantime, the escalator at Termini's Forest Hills station was repaired late last month.

"Yippee and alleluia!" Termini wrote to us when she arrived for her morning commute.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@nbcuni.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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