Ever since 2013, every Friday evening between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, the MBTA’s CapeFLYER train has arrived in Buzzards Bay at approximately 7:15 PM.
There to greet the train on each occasion has been Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority Administrator Thomas S. Cahir. Mr. Cahir said that he takes the time to count the number of passengers and greet the people who have chosen to use the service. The vast majority take a moment to thank him, he said.
“It’s a unique experience. Everyone loves it,” he said.
The numbers bear out his claim. Since its inception five years ago, annual revenues have exceeded operating costs by as much as $20,000 to $30,000. There is a corresponding rise in ridership as well. As of Sunday, August 13, 10,927 passengers had taken the CapeFLYER this year compared to 10,590 at the same time last summer, he said.
“It’s gotten better every year for five years,” he said.
The CapeFLYER was Mr. Cahir’s idea, and it had its inaugural run over Memorial Day weekend in 2013. Over the years, its profile has gone international, with articles about the service being written in such publications as The London Times and The Toronto Mail, Mr. Cahir said.
The seasonal passenger train service from Boston’s South Station to Hyannis is offered Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The train makes stops along the way in Braintree, Brockton, Middleborough/Lakeville, Wareham Village and Buzzards Bay.
The trip to Hyannis takes just under two and a half hours. The train features a café car that offers beer and wine, something that is not on regular MBTA trains, Mr. Cahir said. Reservations are not required, and fares range from $5 for a one-way ticket from Middleborough/Lakeville to either Buzzards Bay or Hyannis, up to $35 for a round-trip ticket from South Station.
Children younger than 11 ride for free with a paying adult, and there are discounts for people with disabilities.
There is also a special same-day $15 round-trip fare offered on Sundays only. Those tickets must be purchased at South Station or with a smartphone app. Those tickets are not available on board the CapeFLYER.
Over the years, CapeFLYER service has been tweaked, Mr. Cahir said. He said that he meets with CCRTA staff every Monday to go over possible improvements or adjustments. In some cases, the innovation has worked out, while others are questionable, he said. One of the better services the train offers is a bike car that holds up to 50 bicycles. The car includes a tool kit “so people can work on their bikes on the way down,” he said.
On the questionable side is the addition a couple of years ago of the stop in Brockton. He said that the stop does not generate a substantial amount of riders. Making a stop there only serves to delay getting people to the Cape as soon as possible, which was always his goal, he said.
“We want to get people here sooner; that’s why I named it the FLYER,” he said.
The first year the CapeFLYER went into service, the CCRTA made the decision to extend service beyond Labor Day weekend to Columbus Day. That decision was made at the request of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and its chief executive officer, Wendy K. Northcross, Mr. Cahir said. He said the service has not been extended past Labor Day weekend since then, and there are no plans to do so again in the future.
“Revenue still exceeded operating cost, but just barely. We were losing money during those last few weeks,” he said.
Likewise, there are no plans to start the service any sooner than Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Cahir said. The CCRTA already finds the month of June to be a challenge because children are still in school, and people are still involved in school and community activities. Service typically picks up with the Fourth of July holiday, he said.
The CCRTA is also scrutinizing the drop in ridership by people leaving the Cape at the end of the weekend, Mr. Cahir said. He noted there is a considerable dip in the number of people who use the CapeFLYER on Sunday return trips compared to how many make the trip down on Friday.
One reason might be that people go home in the car of a relative or a friend. Some people might also stay another day and take the bus back. Since bus service, like the CapeFLYER, is offered by the MBTA, ridership on either service is a good thing, he said. Still, he would like to see the numbers for the CapeFLYER continue to rise.
“So we’re looking into that,” he said.
Mr. Cahir said that, after five years of service, except for the occasional delayed train, there have been no serious problems with the CapeFLYER. He recalled that several years in there was one drunken passenger who had to be removed by police at one stop. Other than that, there has “never been a problem.”
“It’s really a great service,” he said.
Mr. Cahir also said he does not believe that the potential extension of commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay would be a detriment to the CapeFLYER. A vocal advocate for bringing commuter rail to Bourne, Mr. Cahir said he is convinced that commuter rail would have be beneficial to Buzzards Bay, bringing with it substantial economic benefits to the town. Its presence, however, would have no effect on the CapeFLYER.
“The CapeFLYER is a seasonal thing, so commuter rail would have no impact,” he said.