BROCKTON – Every weekend, Brockton families board the Cape Cod Flyer for a beach getaway. Avoiding tolls and rush hour traffic on Interstate 495 on Friday evenings (and then again on Sunday afternoons), people can travel from South Station to Cape Cod – with a few stops along the way – or have an even shorter trip from the Brockton stop.
The Cape Cod Flyer, which has been running for nearly 10 years now, was established as a partnership with the MBTA in 2013, different from the transit authority's "Commuter Rail."
The Flyer allows for a smooth 2 hour and 40 minute trip.
"We called it the Flyer for that reason," Tom Cahir, the Flyer's administrator, said.
It's a relatively short ride and the train, according to Cahir, is unique, different from any other train service the MBTA provides:
"We offer beer, wine, snacks and other amenities, as well as a bike car, where people can bring their bike on board for free and leave it in that car. Our guests can also bring their pets on board if they'd like to have the whole family on the Cape."
The train runs every weekend – Friday evenings to Sunday evenings – to and from South Station and Hyannis through the summer. From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, families from all over Massachusetts pile onto the train with their beach gear, excited for a weekend getaway.
The Flyer's first year had the highest total ridership, with 15,001 getting off and on the train throughout the summer season – between May and September.
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Between 2014 and 2019, the number of riders stayed between 12,600 and 14,500, before ridership plummeted due to the pandemic – dropping all the way to 2,823 in 2020.
But ridership has started to rebound. Last year, exactly 4,100 more riders hopped on the train than in 2020, and it seems this season is following suit.
For Brockton, specifically, ridership numbers are not yet back to pre-pandemic levels – between 2016 and 2019 there were roughly 120 to 150 people getting on the train per year, according to numbers provided by the Flyer's administrative team.
But Brockton ridership has increased quite a bit in the last two years: While 45 riders got on the Flyer at the Brockton stop in 2020, that number jumped to 82 in 2021 and there have been 83 riders so far this year.
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Prior to the pandemic, the Flyer "saw between 300 to 400 people every trip," Kathy Jensen, the Flyer's deputy administrator, said.
"We were ahead of the commuter rail's passenger service."
Two years after the Cape Flyer opened to the public, the Brockton stop became available for commuters.
Jensen said she worked closely with former Mayor Bill Carpenter – prior to his death in 2019 – as well as current Mayor Robert Sullivan on ensuring city residents are aware of the opportunities to travel to the Cape sans traffic.
Through their partnership with the MBTA, the Flyer uses "the MBTA's crew and equipment and pay for operating costs on our own," Jensen said.
When the pandemic hit, Jensen became the Flyer's social media point person. In planning ahead for this summer, Jensen worked on directing more funds into the marketing budget and encouraging people through radio, TV, and online social media platforms to hop on the train any weekend through the summer.
The numbers show the marketing strategy seems to be paying off.
"In July, we had 283 new riders – people who'd never gotten a ticket for the train – which was impressive," Jensen said.
"People are super happy with the trains it seems," Cahir chimed in. "After people get off the trains, they have the option to hop onto one of our many bus transfers that take them exactly where they need to go."
The bus transfers – run by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) – are "the Cape's Brockton Area Transit (BAT)," Cahir said, "offering 10 fixed routes and other seasonal bus routes to visitors and residents of the Cape."
With soaring gas prices and the hassle of driving to the hook-shaped peninsula on a busy holiday weekend, the Cape Flyer has also become the more eco-friendly option, providing both a significantly cheaper fare as well as a more enjoyable, non-time-consuming ride.
A round trip ticket from Brockton to Hyannis is $40. On Sundays throughout the summer, tickets are only $20 for same-day travel.
Kids under 11-years-old ride free when accompanied by an adult with a ticket, seniors and people with disabilities can ride for half the price with a Senior CharlieCard or Transportation Access Pass CharlieCard, and veterans ride free on Memorial Day weekend.
"Downtown Brockton is transforming rapidly with new housing, restaurants, a brewery and other businesses," the mayor said. "The Cape Flyer is a climate-friendly option that saves time and money and is exactly the type of amenity new residents are looking for when they choose Brockton."
As Brockton becomes more travel-friendly, the mayor also hopes that people will be enticed to make a trip to the Cape to explore all that Massachusetts has to offer:
"It's essential that we offer affordable and reliable public transit so all residents can travel for fun and recreation and access the beautiful beaches and natural resources on Cape Cod,” he said.
While public transit is on the front burner on the South Shore, including the soon-returning South Shore Rail, there are no plans, as of yet, to electrify the Cape Flyer trains.
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"We are at the mercy of the MBTA," Jensen said. "So, as of yet, we don't know of any plans to invest in electrifying the trains. However, as ridership on the Cape Cod RTA increases, there is a proposition to employ an all-electric bus fleet by 2035."
Additionally, Brockton officials are working with the administrators at the Flyer to discuss reduced fares for next summer, according to a spokesperson for the city.
The Flyer is approaching its 10th birthday next year, and while there are no plans, as of yet, on how the train service plans to celebrate, Cahir took a moment to reflect.
"We are really proud of what (the Flyer)] has become because it's a really good service that people should take advantage of," he said.
This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Brockton Cape Cod Flyer: MBTA train runs summer weekends to the beach