Improvements to 71/73 Bus Service?

Many have provided feedback on this site about the bus service to Belmont and Watertown from Harvard Square. Together with Representatives Hecht, Rogers and Lawn, and the Watertown Town Council, I’ve been giving the service issues a lot of attention. The MBTA and the City of Cambridge have both responded very diligently to our expressed concerns and we are very grateful.

Let us know how we are doing using the form below this post.

My belief is that people might be seeing some improvement at this time, due to the following:

  • On the inbound side, there was a light out of synch in the system where Mount Auburn crosses Fresh Pond Parkway — the short light at Coolidge Avenue. A number of commuters brought that issue to my attention as we reached out for feedback. The City of Cambridge responded very promptly when we conveyed the problem to them. The light was fixed last Wednesday, March 19. This should help mostly on the morning commute.
  • The MBTA is stationing an inspector in Waverley Square to manage the starting of diesel buses from there to help even out spacing of buses.
  • For now, the MBTA will allow the buses to take a simpler turnaround in Harvard Square — sometimes they have been dropping inbound people off, then going past the crowded outbound platform and coming around through Harvard Square to check in and again be dispatched before picking people up (and once again loop around Harvard Square before heading out to Waverley).

Every minute saved off the average trip contributes to more reliable service. MBTA statistics do confirm that with the switch to diesel on the Waverley, the on-time performance has gone down considerably. There are other factors in addition to the turnaround factors identified above. The trolley bus lines operate as a closed system, with a stable group of drivers. The Waverley line is now in a pool with the dozens of other diesel bus lines so that drivers turnover more and buses can be diverted to problems elsewhere. The instability may have contributed to the loss of reliability. In addition, the construction on Trapelo and also in Harvard Square has contributed to delays on some trips. It is not known when the Coolidge Avenue light went out of synch, but that may have coincided with the diesel shift last fall.

In the longer term, it seems like there is a glimmer of opportunity for further progress in reducing congestion at the Fresh Pond intersection. If that pans out, it could help both bus lines. We’ve put language into the pending bond bill that would authorize the spending of up to $500,000 to study the intersection. That bond bill, even if passed with the language, will not force action on the issue — it is merely an authorization. Separately, Representative Hecht and I have been working to start a conversation with the City of Cambridge and the involved state agencies. It is not a new issue and there is no obvious solution — it is just a very congested intersection. But we are going to give the issue a run.

Click here to view a tabulation of the Spring survey responses

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

4 replies on “Improvements to 71/73 Bus Service?”

  1. The results of our bus performance survey are in; 41% of respondents did not notice a change in service, 27% feel it has gotten better, 24% are not sure or have not been riding regularly and 7% feel it has gotten worse. If we break out the results by route we see similar results for each route. On the 73 bus 28% felt it was improving, 45% saw no change, 17% were unsure or have not been riding and 9% felt it had gotten worse. On the 71 bus 27% felt it was improving, 39% saw no change, 31% were unsure or have not been riding and 9% felt it had gotten worse.

    Many respondents suggested that a possible solution to many of the service issues would be to add more buses to the routes. This would definitely solve the capacity problems, there would be fewer full buses going past full stops, without picking up passengers. Unfortunately there is a capacity shortfall across the entire system. I have culled a chart of bus performance statistics from the MBTA’s most current Route Performance Indicators to illustrate the relative need and challenges faced by each route in the Senator’s district.

    Overall, while it appears that some respondents feel service has improved, there is still work to be done. We will continue to work with the MBTA, MassDOT, the towns and our partners in the House to identify possible improvements to service.

    Andrew Bettinelli
    Legislative Aide
    Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

  2. Nice table. I would add that in Arlington there are two new housing developments on the 67 route and one for the 79 which will be increasing ridership by next year when they are both full. The apartments that were Brighams and the new Symmes apartments and senior living apartments, so although the ridership there looks low now it will be higher soon.

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