An MBTA bus in Watertown. The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston:
I often get complaints about bunching and related gaps in service on MBTA buses. Sometimes you’ll see 4 buses go through together and sometimes you might wait 30 minutes for a bus that is supposed to come every 5 or 10 minutes. Bunching is a perennial challenge for MBTA bus operations, especially on the trolley lines (71 and 73) where buses cannot pass each other. I recently sat down with senior bus operations managers at the MBTA to get an update on their efforts to keep service properly spaced. Current technology is a major barrier to addressing the bunching problem. Other than the farebox, everything on the bus is run by a system originally procured almost 20 years ago called “Transit Master.” Transit Master keeps records on who is driving the bus, displays the route signs on the bus, provides radio communications, makes the stop announcements, counts passengers and, most importantly, tells the driver in real time whether the bus is ahead or behind schedule. When the driver sits down in the bus at the start of their shift and logs in to the system, a schedule is loaded for their whole shift. That schedule doesn’t change dynamically to reflect traffic conditions. Congestion is built into schedules, but traffic is not entirely predictable and when traffic is especially bad, buses fall behind schedule. Even if a bus is running behind schedule and the trailing bus has caught up, the trailing bus driver is being told by the system to keep pressing to stay on schedule, even if that means staying right behind the lead bus.