OP-ED: Sen. Brownsberger on MBTA Bus Bunching

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.

Find Out About the Bus Priority Lanes on Mt. Auburn St. at Meeting

Buses like this one on the 71 bus have been given priority heading toward Harvard Square on Mt. Auburn Street in the new Cambridge-Watertown Bus Priority Pilot program. The following information was provided by the Town of Watertown:

Did you know that more than half of all commuters using Mt. Auburn Street during rush hour are riding the bus? 

Watertown and Cambridge, working with the MBTA and DCR, created a bus priority lane on Mt. Auburn Street for the 71 and 73 buses, between Cottage Street in Watertown and Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge, to help move buses faster. Extensive data collection of the before and after conditions will be presented at a meeting on:

Wednesday, June 12, 2019, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.46 Belmont St.

Watertown Bus Routes will be Impacted by Changes Approved by MBTA

Bus service in Watertown may be changed for the better after an MBTA board approved changes to dozens of bus routes around the region. Out of 47 proposals to change the T’s bus routes, 36 received approval from the Fiscal and Management Control Board, including nine that had modifications. The proposals impact two sets of buses in Watertown: the 70/70A route and the 502 and 504 express buses. The board also approved 45 additional bus operators to increase off-peak service on some of the busiest routes. The 70/70A will see some a major changs in the route through Waltham, which MBTA officials say will improve frequency and reliability along the whole route from Central Square in Cambridge to Waltham.