In response to constituent complaints about the service quality of the 73 bus, we reached out to the MBTA to see if there was an explanation and also to get a timeline for the return of the trackless trolley service. Below is the response from MTA Service Planning:
As the original email suggested, the recent poor performance on Route 73 is primarily due to a shortage of drivers. When drivers are not available for their regularly scheduled duty, that work is normally filled by drivers on the “Cover List.” However, if the number of unavailable drivers is greater than the number of drivers available to cover the work, then some trips are dropped. When forced to drop trips, the MBTA prefers to drop trips from high frequency routes (e.g., every 6-10 min, like Route 73), reasoning that those riders will face less disruption than riders of routes that operate once an hour, for example. Therefore, drivers may be pulled from high frequency routes to cover vacant work on low frequency routes. Unfortunately, this means that among Bennett Garage routes, drivers are often pulled from Routes 73 and 77.
In Fall 2015, we received a great deal of complaints regarding Route 73 for this reason. Bus Operations instituted a policy that strictly limited drivers being pulled form Route 73 during peak hours. Afterwards, the number of complaints dropped significantly. This improvement was also due in part to the hiring of more drivers and changes in MBTA’s attendance policy. However, we have pulled from Route 73 in recent weeks due to more drivers taking vacation during the summer. While we run a slightly reduced schedule to account for this additional vacation time, it has not been sufficient for us to cover all absences. The policy of not dropping Route 73 trips remains in effect, but we have learned that lately it has not always been followed. The Supervisor Office and Bennett Garage leadership are working closely with our field officials to cut down on these dropped trips.
Looking ahead, when Route 73 returns to trackless trolley service, this issue should be much less common, since vehicles cannot be transferred from Routes 71 and 73 to other routes. Now that the road construction work on Trapelo Road and Belmont Street is nearly complete, we are currently working to return electric trolley buses to the line. We anticipate that regular service with the electric trolley buses will begin in conjunction with the start of our Winter schedule on December 30, 2016. While this may seem like a long time from now, given that the road project is mostly complete, our work has just begun. The MBTA only recently received permission from MassDOT and Newport Construction to begin work on reinstalling all of our catenary wire between Cushing Square and the Cambridge line (we have already been working on the segment from Waverley Sq to Cushing Sq). This work will take several months to complete. After that, we must conduct testing and ensure that all of our operators are sufficiently trained on the new wires. Therefore, residents in the area should see some non-revenue service trolley buses beginning in the fall, with regular service beginning at the end of the year.
Please let us know if you continue to notice poor service on the 73 bus route.
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger