Better Bus Update

The MBTA has been listening carefully to public feedback about the 47 cost-neutral bus route changes that service planners are proposing across the region. At their meeting on April 8, the MBTA’s board offered a “sense of the board” supporting 36 of the proposals.

Board members deferred final approval to give themselves time to review in full detail the equity analysis for the whole package. When final approval is provided, as appears likely, the package will be the most significant set of route changes in memory.

The MBTA fields almost all of its bus fleet at rush hour. The fleet size, roughly 1000 buses, is constrained by available storage and maintenance facilities. The MBTA is engaged in a planning process for more storage and maintenance capacity.

Until the fleet can grow, service improvements at rush hour have to come mostly from moving buses, not adding buses. The 47 proposed route changes are mostly simplifications designed to allow the allocation of finite rush hour resources to service more riders. This does mean taking service away from a smaller group of riders.

For example, on the 74 in Belmont and the 64 in Brighton, planners propose to eliminate short detours in the routes that add stops closer to some passengers. Those passengers will have a longer walk to the main line of the route, but, according to the planners’ modeling, on balance, more people will benefit by the shortening of the route. Shortening a route, by reducing time required for each cycle, allows more frequent service all along the route.

The MBTA’s outreach has been extensive and while some riders may remain unaware of the proposed changes, it seems clear that the outreach has been sufficient to generate a diverse body of comments on each proposal. The MBTA has received over 3500 comments on their proposals, including over 150 on the 74/75 changes and over 50 on the 64 changes. As to those particular changes, in both instances, the comments have been slightly positive on average. The proposed route changes for the 70 and 70A in Watertown was one of the most popular changes, with a clear favorable response.

It does appear that the MBTA has carefully reviewed all of the comments. Their initial proposals were based on careful ridership analysis, but the comments surfaced considerations that had not previously been identified. As a result, they held 11 proposals back and modified 9 others.

The 64, 70/70A and 74/75 route changes are all among the 36 proposals for which final approval is expected. The 74/75 route change was one of 16 that received deeper re-analysis by the team based on the extensive and conflicting feedback.

As the T moves forward to implement these cost-neutral changes, they will also be moving forward on two longer term directions. First, they continue to work with municipalities that are ready to create more bus lanes and/or to implement transit signal priority for buses. For example, there has been a lot of public conversation about the Brighton Ave 57 bus lane, which the T is eager to implement.

Second, they will be studying travel patterns to ask how the bus network could be remodeled to better serve the public. The MBTA’s routes have been very stable over the years, even as jobs and housing have concentrated in new areas. The MBTA will be analyzing anonymized cell phone data to better understand the travel needs of the broader public — not just their current riders.

They will also be developing a set of network performance metrics so they can evaluate possibilities for completely new routes, either as cost-neutral changes that would mean eliminating some routes, or service additions that would likely need to wait for expanded bus maintenance facilities.

The network redesign work is primarily analytic at this stage, so there will not be extensive new outreach, but when it leads to new proposals, there will be wide public discussion. The intention is to offer pilot redesign proposals on a medium-term basis as opposed to waiting for a single final proposal.

My overall sense is that the MBTA is moving forward thoughtfully with progressive changes in bus routing based on respectful engagement with the public and a principled analysis of all available data.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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12 Comments

  1. I hadn’t seen the analyses on bus route profiles before this post, but I’m really impressed by the quality of those profiles! I think the work that the MBTA is doing with its bus network is incredibly excited; thank you for keeping us up to date about this Will!

  2. Disappointed with the 74 Bus route change. Will have to seek different options to commute to work. If commuters start to take Uber and clog the roads, it will take the 74 Bus even longer to complete the trip.

  3. Thanks, Will. I agree that the process seems to have worked well.
    Hope the service changes work positively as well.

  4. Thank you for this update. As a regular Rt 66 bus commuter, I am eager for dedicated bus lanes, shorter wait times, fewer delays (ie more predictability), less overcrowding, and more efficiency. Fingers crossed.

  5. Will, can you provide details of changes when they are approved? Thanks for keeping us in the loop!

  6. I still say schedules should reflect Leave times, not arrival times. Buses arr. at particular points early, they leave early and folks miss buses that have already left particular points on the routes.
    Also, seeing many buses that are “Out of Service”, etc., and moving without passengers seems an awfully inefficient way to do business.

  7. The use of 24/7 designation for bus lanes was avoided in Brighton for example; they are only in effect when they make sense and are marked as such.
    Unfortunately, that common sense, considerate, logical approach was abandoned in Cambridge/Belmont on Mt Auburn street/Belmont Street. Here we have a vital travel lane, closed to cars, for zero benefit and tangible deficit for most of the day and night. I sit in two light changes at 5PM eastbound/inbound, while there are zero busses in sight and an unused travel lane, that disallows use by cars. So, we sit stupidly, with left-turners and long car lines backing up at the light. Why ? Because they won’t post the dedicated bus/bike lane as during those time when it is truly needed only, during AM rush hour. Boston has the sense to do so. Here, not.

      1. Not sure just which light you are waiting for left turners at. There is no bus lane at any of the legal left turns — Homer or Aberdeen or Brattle.

        Feel free to give me a shout off line to go over this at 617-771-8274. I go through there all the time myself (using all modes — ped, bike, bus, car) and I’m not sure I see the problems you are seeing.

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