Service on the 71 Bus line is not what it used to be. What was 10 years ago a very well functioning route is now plagued by delays, overcrowding, bus bunching, ever-lengthening commutes and dubious reliability.
The Key Bus Initiatives work has been completed and a decent interval has passed. Although a number of stops were removed, service on the 71 bus line has not improved noticeably.
Removing bus stops has done nothing to solve the biggest problem plaguing the line, which is overcrowding. Overcrowding is a delay problem that far overshadows the number and spacing of stops. This works in two ways: First, an overcrowded bus takes far longer to board and un-board. Secondly an overcrowded bus generally becomes delayed and as it becomes increasingly late, riders accumulate at stops and the bus has to stop more often and pick up more riders than if it were running on schedule.
Presently, overcrowding during the morning rush often results in inbound buses being unable to take on passengers after Bigelow Avenue. 20-25 minute trips from Bigelow to Harvard Station are not uncommon. Outbound buses are regularly overcrowded by the T’s own standard (140% of seated capacity) until 10:30 or 11pm on weeknights.
The bus stop solution was attractive to the T because it was quick and dirty and required little change or effort on their part. The customers bear the burden of change and inconvenience. Often the T’s solutions to problems are based on this type of rationale. But there are solutions for the 71 bus line that will yield far greater improvements and enhanced customer satisfaction. Some of these are:
• Increase the number and frequency of buses on the route
• Provide real time management of the route (e.g. when buses bunch, make some express to restore spacing)
• Increase Watertown availability of Charlie Card sales (slow cash fare collection on board is a huge delay factor)
• Install a fare card machine at Watertown Square (and Watertown yard)
• Work with cities of Cambridge and Watertown on expediting buses through traffic signals
• Specifically work with Cambridge Traffic and DCR to improve bus movement through signals at Coolidge Road and Fresh Pond Parkway
• Consider altering fare collection in outbound direction, perhaps collecting fares on the Harvard Platform
The long suffering riders of the 71 line have experienced five years of deteriorating service. It is time for real solutions.