MBTA Updates

A lot has been happening through the summer at the MBTA and I wanted to offer a few updates.

First, Belmont and Watertown bus riders can expect to soon have a dedicated lane through the chronic traffic jam in front of Mount Auburn cemetery.  We had hoped to see this ready earlier in the summer, but we still expect it before the end of the construction season.

Second, the MBTA is moving forward with a contract to repair the Alewife garage.  The project will take a little less than two years.  During this time, the loss of parking will be very limited – approximately 200 out of the 2700 spaces at any one time.   These fixes are not a permanent solution – the structure will likely need to be replaced within a decade or so.

Third, parking fees will be restructured at MBTA garages effective Saturday, September 1.  Weekday fees will be dropping at some installations that are underused and rising at the most congested facilities.   Weekend fees will drop at most facilities.  The idea is to better utilize all resources.  For my district, the only relevant facility is Alewife and we will see an increase to $9 per day there.

Fourth, the MBTA is beginning its public engagement process around their new fare system, currently known as “Automated Fare Collection 2.0”.  Once it is rolled out fully in 2021, it should be a huge improvement.   The most obvious service improvement will be that passengers will be able to board using any door on buses and the Green Line.  That will reduce station dwell time and speed up service.

The subtler improvement will be that Instead of having value residing on cards that could be lost or damaged, value will reside in a user account.  Riders will be able to pay through that account in multiple convenient ways.  The new model will create a lot of new options for fare structure that the current model does not support.  Fare structure will always be a combination of economics and politics, but we can attract more riders through pricing that better reflects value.

Finally, the Rail Vision study is underway.  The advisory group has been organized and has met twice.  One thing I am starting to understand is that the right answer will not be the same for all rail lines.

For example, I have a strong bias towards the concept of more frequent rail service on the Worcester line connecting Brighton and Allston into downtown Boston.  Subway like service for only a few stops could share the tracks with the long haul service for Worcester.

The light rail service to Allston and Brighton, the Green Line, is maxed out.  I am thrilled about the plans in motion to improve the Green Line, but the overwhelming volume of residential development in Allston and Brighton, which are already dense areas, is likely to also justify rail service improvements.

I’d also love to see more frequent service on the Fitchburg line going from Belmont into Boston, but the case for subway like frequency will be weaker than on the Worcester line.  At current population density, the ridership in Belmont will necessarily be less and the avenue towards service improvement may simply be more frequent long haul runs as opposed to the more radical concept of subway like service sharing the tracks.

Improving public transportation will continue to be a core priority for me as a legislator.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

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29 Comments

  1. Thank you for supporting regional rail on the Worcester Line! Having West Station built in the I90 Allston Phase 1 is an important part of that.

  2. Thanks for this update. iamwith you on having more service at the new commuter rail station in Brighton. Also adding a couple express buses on the 501 and 503 lines outside the stric commuter times would make sense for a lot of people trying to go downtown via public transportation.

  3. On Automatic Collection 2.0. 1. I can’t download the presentation. It is taking forever & I don’t have the time. In any case, I can see no information about SENIOR PASSES which you put money on & pay at the stations like a “charlie” card. So what do seniors do if this is abandoned and only a smart phone will suffice. I don’t have a smart phone & have no use for it so no intention of buying, certainly not to pay the T when I need to use it.Hopefully this will be taken into account.

  4. It it about time the MBTA addressed fare servicing options. I believe that not taking cash and boarding at all doors will speed up bus rides a lot more than 10% as the report states. I would have privacy concerns with some of the new options, although paying from a smart phone would be attractive to me. I also don’t agree with raising rates at the more congested garages, even though I don’t use them. It seems more logical to make it easier and cheaper for people to use the T in any way they can.
    When I first moved into the city after college in the late 70s, I didn’t want to own a car, but after a year of taking the buses and green line from Somerville, I gave up in frustration and bought a car. More recently, after taking the 504 bus to work for 8 years from Watertown, I finally gave up again and am driving (the service is too infrequent after 7 pm when I usually go home and the changes in pickup/dropoff locations in the city make catching it difficult). I am lucky that I have had that option in my life, whereas may don’t.
    It seems like not much has changed in 40 years and this city continues to be short-sighted. It amazes me how change comes to the MBTA only by pulling teeth and then in tiny incremental steps. Maybe that is the result of trying to fix an old system rather than creating a new one, but until we have first-class public transportation, Boston will see increasing logjam traffic. I was one of those who thought the Big Dig money should have gone to public transportation, and the fact the North and South Stations have still not been connected after it was promised is ridiculous.
    I also have a question about schedules. They change 4x a year. Why? When I used to use the printed schedules, I seemed to always have an outdated one. More recently I used apps to find buses, but scheduling still always seemed a little capricious to me.
    As always, thank you for your hard work and focus on transportation issues.

    1. Thanks, Marcia.

      They are giving a lot of attention to the privacy concerns.

      It seems more logical to make it easier and cheaper for people to use the T in any way they can.

      I agree with that in principle, but we have to use price signals to reflect value. There are a lot of underutilized garages in the system. If everybody goes to a couple of the most popular garages, many people can’t park at all.

      Regarding schedule changes, the T service planning staff is constantly looking at load and trying to maximize the number of people that they can carry by moving buses to the most congested routes. It makes sense to make minor adjustments on a regular basis. Major adjustments are less frequent and involve a major public process.

      Let’s keep fighting for that first-class system. You are right that part of the problem is age — it’s hard to be both the first system in the world and the best. But I agree that we need to get much better and I’m all about that!

  5. Appreciate the moves, and the work behind same to get agreement from all parties. Sad that Alewife is increasing $$$, again, which, while justified based on market conditions and the MBTA’s financial woes, will pull more people back on the road. Question: if it is “fair” to charge public transit-goers more for any part of their commute, why are not “peak toll” or “congestion charge” schemes fair? It is time to move to a new level of solution to our urban traffic issues… (As complicated as that idea may be!)

    Am sure this has been investigated, and possibly already employed, but…. Is there rentable land the MBTA could test concept for a remote parking lot (on 95/128) from which commuters can be shuttled in on vans on Rte 2 (even getting a “fast lane” from the Belmont Hill/Park Ave point, right into the station??), or is that done already?). One west, and another north/northwest, of Alewife?

    Judging from the snarled line of cars heading east from Concord circles area each morning, assume some significant percentage keep going on Rte 2 and might be taken off the road farther west and shuttled in. Takes a bit more time for transfer, but allows driver to now read, text, email, etc instead of driving the last 5-10 miles into Alewife or worst, Boston.

    Finally, what pressure has been put on companies or organizations which offer “cheap” parking rates as an employee perq or accommodation but which incentivizes employees to keep driving? They have to be part of the solution as well.

    1. Thanks, Lawrence. Love the congestion pricing idea. It’s in the mix of proposals. Governor vetoed a version of it that we put in the budget.

      Satellite parking has long been discussed. One of the problems is the congestion that the buses would be mired in. But we need to keep talking about it. Hopefully, we can reach that in the Rail Vision conversation.

      Agreed that we should look at the incentives that parking discounts are creating — haven’t seen numbers on that.

  6. Public transit improvement is vital to our community succeeding so thank you so much for focusing on this!

    1. I’m honestly not sure. There are a lot of stops close together. It wouldn’t add much for residents in the area — they have the Red Line. And I’m not sure what it would do for congestion.

      But I understand the appeal and am not opposed to it — I just haven’t seen the numbers on how it would likely work.

  7. Public transportation costs (particularly for working class people) are prohibitive,this is especially true for the commuter rail system.

    1. This is a recognized problem — very high costs for the longer haul commuter rail. On the other hand, that service is very expensive to provide. But the fare issue is on the table in the larger rail discussion.

  8. Meanwhile RedLine service this summer (in the moment) has been abysmal. Every day I receive notice on my phone for RedLine alerts notifying me of breakdowns or slowdowns on that line’s service. Future plans sound great but in the here-and- now riders are struggling everyday to get to and from work in a timely way. And it is not always possible. Might not the T have some sort of triage system to work on repairs now, as well as looking ahead to a bright shiny future? Jeanne Cronin

    1. It’s definitely doing both! The red line is getting a couple of billion in investment in both incremental and longer term improvements. Over the next few years, the service improvements will become unambiguous.

      BTW, I ride the Red Line often too and my experiences have been really very good.

  9. Thanks for the post.

    You mention that a greater frequency service along the fitchburg line tracks isn’t likely at current population density

    I understand it, by state law we currently need two thirds supermajority in towns to change zoning laws, which would be necessary (for example) to upzone Belmont for greater density.

    I heard a while back on some efforts to revamp this supermajority requirement – any updates on that?

  10. having schedules and a station on both sides of the track where you won’t get drenched or frozen or beaten in the sun, would help a lot at boosting Belmont ridership on purple line I don’t even think of using it (I live on the ALewife end of town…love the bike path)

  11. as always, I wish another parking station at the junction of Route 2 and 128 with shuttle bus lanes to Alewife and maybe other locales like Waverly, to add to the very popular parking at Alewife would be great…

  12. Will, I appreciate your continued support for improving public transportation. I live in the heart of the city because of the vibrant urban environment combined with the robust job market for people like me who work in the technology field.

    The MBTA has always been treated as the poor stepchild and the system in my estimation is approaching a breaking point. New York is also suffering the same fate. I know that Federal dollars for public transportation are not going to come to urban blue states in the current administration and that even if Trump is not reelected, it will be tough to get Federal funding for such projects.

    Given the current realities listed above, are other lower cost avenues being explored for moving people from west to east like gondolas above ground or tapping into boats on the Charles River which is now being ignored? Why not tap into the experts at MIT and Harvard for new and innovative ideas on how to move people more efficiently through the city? I believe we are approaching a choking point where economic growth is going to suffer without sufficient transportation infrastructure.

  13. Thanks for your attention to public transportation, which obviously provides value to those who ride it, and also those who don’t — people who need to drive and have fewer cars on the road, and those who depend on services provided by transit riders to get to work.

    I also am pleased by Watertown and Cambridge and the Commonwealth working to improve bus service along Mt Auburn, in part by dedicating public space (road lanes) to move more *people* more quickly, rather than preferencing moving more cars more quickly. (At peak times, one bus can easily carry what would be more than 40 carloads of people.)

    I hope you and your constituents are also tracking and participating in the T’s Better Buses Project, looking at trade-offs between different service priorities and investment levels. The T’s bus service very often fails to meet its own service delivery policy and standards, and I’m hopeful this project will both help get real with how bad things are, and with what really matters to people so that capital investments and operating budgets are set and spent better, and operating procedures improve performance and reliability.

    Thanks again.

  14. You wrote: Weekend fees will drop at most facilities.
    Seems to me if you want to get folks onto the T and off the roads, make the parking free at all T stops.
    I’ve found lots of free places to park on/near bus routes to get me to the Red Line as I refuse to pay for parking either in Boston on going into Boston.

  15. Thanks for the update. I’m a big fan of the my auburn st projects you speak about. Same for AFC 2.0. Thanks for supporting these as often as you could over the years.

    Regarding commuter rail, I still can’t shake the inner-128 DMU-like concept that you mention as an idea for the Worcester line.

    Thinking further, I’ve heard say that building over the pike is a permitting nightmare but I can’t help but think that if the right minds are behind it, putting a parking garage upstairs from one of those stops in Newton -or a re-opened Newton Corner stop, could convert a lot of car commuters into T riders. Or as one commenter suggested previously, put one at the 128/90 junction. Throw in some TOD housing units to sweeten the deal in a public-private partnership. Boston Landing was a great mitigator for traffic to and from the NB ‘complex’ but did it really impact the independent trend of growing gridlock in the inner-128 communities?
    Same for West Station -which I support. It will help to mitigate the impact of acres of new development (where the green line can’t) and hopefully it will open up a grand trunk rail line to Kendall someday). BUT, can it pull car commuters from the Pike and put riders on the T?

    As my inner fantasy-world keeps turning, utilize smart tolling on the Pike to further incentivize people to jump off and into one of these stations. What a shame that the smart tolls concept got bagged recently. Did I miss a forum posting from you on that one?
    That was a disappointment.

    1. Great thought about air rights to create a Worcester Line parking garage! There has to be some possibility of additional parking.

      The smart tolling thing is something I strongly support — in fact sponsored language on it. It will take more discussion though to get it done. Looking forward to that!

  16. Hi Will,

    I’m confused by the new markings I’m seeing on Mount Auburn Street around the cemetery and Star Market. Is the bus lane going to be painted in both directions, or just the outbound direction?

    I ask because the current markings make it hard to imagine a bus lane forming on the inbound direction. There’s a left turn only lane for Brattle Street, which restricts straight traffic to just one lane.

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