By RJ Long, TRA Project Manger

MBTA ridership hit an all-time record of 400 million trips this past fiscal year. The ULI Boston report, Hub and Spoke, predicts that ridership could grow to upwards of 500 million trips by 2021. Therefore the MBTA is planning for new stations, new trains and new ways to fund its operations. One source in particular, its retail portfolio, serves as an amenity to the riders and has growth potential. Everything from your morning coffee to your evening movie rental is only made more convenient when adding it to your commute. So what’s happening to help add more options in more places? A lot.

Over the past year the MBTA has restructured how it entertains offers from businesses, it has streamlined its public bid process with simpler & clearer documents, and it has begun utilizing modern leases with requirements similar to that of major malls.

The results: a kiosk program which will economically enhance dozens of smaller locations, a fixed retail program which is slated to overhaul fifteen existing locations system-wide, and the establishment of projects to develop underutilized real estate. While these programs and projects will offer a wide variety of benefits, none will have an impact quite like the revitalization of Back Bay Station.

After researching the opportunities at Back Bay Station a new master plan was implemented to create a concept similar to the MBTA’s best stations, South Station and North Station. The first items on the agenda are to make HVAC, lighting and beautification improvements to the commuter rail lobby. Upon completion, the Station will be ready for the retail improvements. The main concourse retail operations will be revamped and upwards of six “South Station style” kiosks will be added. This, in addition to the strategically positioned tables and chairs, will create a floor plan which can accommodate roughly 33,500 people coming and going. Furthermore, this layout provides a value added resource to both the retails and the riders. Up next, a portion of the underutilized sidewalk under the Dartmouth Street roof overhang will be repurposed as rentable square feet. This will be accomplished as individual businesses build out their space and their unique requirements are addressed. Overall, this transformation will not only create an atmosphere where retailers can succeed and the riders feel comfortable but it will raise the MBTA’s bottom line.