Notes on the 55 Bus

I recently passed on the good news that the MBTA is planning to restore midday service on the Fenway 55 bus for the summer season.

Some were disappointed that the MBTA is not yet committed to restoring full commuter service hours on the 55.

At their board meeting on Monday, MBTA management spent some time explaining their service dilemmas and their process for deciding where to put available buses and drivers.

Here are some of the key points they made:

  • T subway ridership is still 76% below pre-COVID levels, but buses are the service that has lost the least ridership. Some “durable” buse routes are running at over half their pre-COVID ridership and these include some of the perennially busiest routes in the system, like the #1 route from Roxbury to Cambridge and the #111 route from Everett to downtown.
  • The MBTA has always been tight staffed — so tight that if someone doesn’t show up for work then a bus trip is likely to be dropped and riders inconvenienced.
  • They have been working to build more of an “extraboard” of staffing on each shift so that they are less likely to drop trips.
  • At the same time, the bus driver staff is down slightly at to 1660 as a result of a COVID-related pause in hiring last fall. They are hiring and training as fast they can now and hope to be back up to their full complement of drivers of just over 1670 by the fall and they intend to build to a higher level for more “extraboard” and fewer dropped trips.
  • They are currently still seeing 30 or 40 COVID cases on any given day. For each employee out with COVID there are a couple of more employees out due to quarantine, so their staffing is especially tight.
  • They are allocating the finite buses and drivers that they have to keep crowding down on the routes where their ridership has been durable through the COVID pandemic. On these routes, they are running more service than they were pre-COVID and they need to add even more to keep crowding at acceptable levels in some places.
  • They are restoring summer service on the #18, #52, #55 (to Copley), #68, and partially #465 (via #435 extension) — all of these are “routes that serve schools, stranded transit critical populations, and/or higher level of stranding”. Presumably the 55 fits in the “stranded transit critical populations” category as it services seniors with no other good options.
  • As they make their service plans for the fall, they will not necessarily be going back to the same service levels on each route as before. Some will get more, some will get less, based on ridership.
  • Service planning will report back to the board as to Fall service changes in June.

You can view the live stream and the slides in the presentation at this link. The slides are part of the Report from the General Manager & Deputy General Manager, starting at page 14.   The place in the live stream to listen is 1:17:30.

Fenway elected officials have made the MBTA very aware of the popular demand for 55 service.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

Join the Conversation

5 Comments

  1. Thank you for the follow up and efforts in keeping us updated and informed.

    I believe that the limited service for the summer is not going to be feasible. In fact, with the limited bandwidth and availability of service, the ridership of the 55 of course will be decreased because bus service will not be available to downtown and will not be available in the early mornings, early evenings, mid evenings and even late evenings. Thus, quantitatively the limited scope of bus service availability will result in limited and decreased ridership for which the MBTA will base their fall decisions on. This would be harmful for 55 service in the future.

    The MBTA has been informed that the monies that they received from the co vid relief was to ensure pre-pandemic levels of service. By not offering pre-pandemic levels of service but yet accepting the relief funds, they may technically be in violation of federal law.

    As for the availability of bus drivers, the excuse is not feasible in this instance. The 55 bus running a few extra hours and to downtown would at most require one extra bus driver each day. It would not represent a significant cost. In fact they could take one bus driver away from driving an empty 39, or 9 bus and put them on the 55 and provide needed service for those in the East and West Fenway.

    I think our local elected officials need to contact our congressional delegation and bring this to their attention and have the delegation again remind the Baker administration and the MBTA that they need to appropriately use the funds that they were awarded by restoring pre-pandemic levels of service.

  2. How can we monitor the transportation money from the Rescue bill to make sure it is used for people in need of transportation in an equitable way?

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