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Spotlight | Seeing Red

Five years, 300,000 cars: The numbers behind Boston’s traffic battle

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

It’s not your imagination: There were 300,000 more cars and trucks registered in Greater Boston than five years ago, according to an analysis of data from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

This is among the statistics packed into the first part of the Spotlight Team’s series, Seeing Red, which many readers say painfully confirms their long-held belief that traffic in Greater Boston has never been worse.

Here are some other big numbers from the Globe’s report, which underscore why the region is in such crisis:

1. Greater Boston has a lot more cars and trucks than just five years ago

The number of registered vehicles in the Boston metro area jumped 300,000 from 2014 to 2019.


2. But the problem isn’t just the number of cars... it’s a lot of people driving alone

In the last five years, 59,000 more people are driving to work alone in Greater Boston, according to the most recent US Census estimate.

The Spotlight Team tried to add some texture to that data point. Two reporters in May stood along a single-lane, northbound ramp into the Tip O’Neill Tunnel. Reporters counted nearly 650 cars in an hour flooding during the evening rush. In nearly 7 out of 10 of them , the driver rode alone.

3. Boston’s population and workforce are growing ... which has more people driving into the city

Traffic has gotten worse in part because more jobs are concentrating in Greater Boston, which is generating more of the Massachusetts economy. Consider that last year the metropolitan area gained 93,000 jobs as the rest of the state lost 65,000, according to data analyzed by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

4. The MBTA has more derailments than almost any other metro transit system, and costs more too

Boston’s subway system is the oldest in the country. That was clear in June, when a Red Line train derailed, unleashing months of signal problems and delays. The train that derailed was built in 1969, making it nearly two decades older than half of Boston residents. The subway system has suffered about 40 derailments in the last five years, more than almost any metro transit system in the country.


Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has made significant and long overdue investments in the subway system and commuter rail. A national survey that found, at $292 per resident, Massachusetts spent more per capita on transit in 2017 than any other state.

5. People are fed up

Government leadership to address the traffic crisis is clearly paramount. For example, a recent survey from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council found that 60 percent of biotech workers were so unhappy with their commutes that they would change jobs for a better one. In fact, nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they would consider moving out of state because of traffic and commuting.

6. The way to begin fixing this

Consider bus lanes. Other cities have aggressively carved out bus lanes and streets, prioritizing travel for the dozens of passengers at a time. Seattle and its surrounding suburbs have 40 miles of bus lanes. London has more than 180 miles. New York has roughly 100 miles and just designated all of 14th Street a busway, essentially banning cars. Greater Boston has roughly 10 miles of bus lanes.

Read more from the “Seeing Red”:

- Part 1: Political gridlock

- Part 2: Late as always

- Part 3: The tech effect

Andrew Ryan can be reached at