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.

See How MBTA Projects Will Impact Subways, Trains in 2020

The following piece was provided by the MBTA and MassDOT:

Today the MBTA announced its plans to accelerate infrastructure projects for several subway lines and the Commuter Rail during calendar year 2020 to improve service, safety, and reliability on a faster timeline. These projects will include additional diversions of weekend service on all rapid transit lines and several Commuter Rail lines. In addition to a number of weekend diversions on the Green Line, the MBTA is planning for two one-month shutdowns on the Green Line: the C Branch in July and the E Branch in August. 

The 2020 Infrastructure Acceleration Plan will deliver these projects eight years faster than originally planned, and will result in track replacement, upgraded intersections, and station improvements. In 2019, the MBTA executed a plan to expedite projects for customers, delivering projects 2.2 years faster than originally planned across the Red, Orange, and Green Lines. Much of this work was completed through ten weekend shutdowns on the Red and Orange Lines through the core of downtown Boston. During those shutdowns, the MBTA was able to accelerate improvements by expanding traditional work windows and increasing the number of work activities that took place.

Discount MBTA Passes Now Available for Watertown Youth

Buses like this one on the 71 bus will get priority heading toward Harvard Square on Mt. Auburn Street in the new Cambridge-Watertown Bus Priority Pilot program. State officials announced youth from Watertown can receive discount passes to ride the MBTA buses and trains through the Youth Pass program. The program is aimed at people between age 12 and 25 who are not enrolled in school or college (they already qualify for passes for school or college students). Students over 18 must be enrolled in an alternative education program (such as GED), a job training program, or a federal benefit program, including MassHealth and SNAP.

See the MBTA Schedules for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day

An MBTA bus in Watertown. The MBTA will be running special service on New Year’s Eve, including free service in the evening. Find out more details below. The following information came from the MBTA:

New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2019

Fares will not be collected after 8 p.m.

All modes will run on a weekday schedule. 

Subway will have additional, late-night service.

Changes to MBTA Buses Serving Watertown Start in Late December

An MBTA bus in Watertown. Watertown public transit riders will soon see some changes to bus routes as part of the MBTA’s Better Bus Project. Beginning Dec. 22, 2019, the 70 and 70A buses will see changes in its service to north Waltham,, and the 71 bus will have shortened routes during the morning and evening rush hours. Also, stops will be eliminated on the 52 bus, which runs out of Watertown Yard.

MBTA Announces Recommendations to Improve Safety for Riders, Staff

The following announcement was provided by the MBTA:

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and its Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) accepted a report from the MBTA Safety Review Panel on Dec. 9 that offers 34 recommendations with 61 corrective actions to improve safety for MBTA riders and staff. The panel, commissioned by the FMCB in June after a series of derailments and other safety incidents, comprises three nationally recognized experts in transit safety: former US transportation secretary Ray LaHood; former Federal Transit Administration acting administrator Carolyn Flowers; and former NYC Transit president Carmen Bianco. “While the agency performs the necessary core functions to be considered a relatively safe system, many aspects of the T’s approach to safety and operations need immediate attention,” the report states. “In almost every area we examined, deficiencies in policies, application of safety standards or industry best practices, and accountability were apparent.”

FMCB Chairman Joseph Aiello praised the Safety Review Panel’s 63-page report.

Pair of Brothers Arrested After Threatening Bus Driver

The MBTA Transit Police arrested two Waltham brothers who threatened a bus driver at the Watertown Yard on Galen Street when he refused to let them on the bus. The Transit Police released the following account of the incident:

On Nov. 19, 2019 at approximately 11:55 p.m. Transit Police officers assigned to the North District received a radio call to respond to the MBTA’s Watertown Sq. Bus Yard for a report two males threatening an MBTA bus operator. Upon arrival offices were met by the victim, an MBTA bus operator, and Watertown Police.

OP-ED: Improving Rail Service Can Reduce Congestion at Rush Hour

The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, D – Belmont, who also represents Watertown and parts of Boston:

A closer look at recently-reported traffic numbers offers hope that expansions of rail service can make a real difference in rush hour congestion. I was discouraged by two analyses that came out over the summer. MassDOT’s report, Congestion in the Commonwealth, showed that daily vehicle volume dwarfs daily commuter rail ridership along the major radial commuting paths into the core of the Boston area. Around the same time, preliminary results from the Rail Vision model showed that even major expansions of commuter rail service outside 128 would garner ridership increases apparently too small to make a dent in vehicle volume. For example, the Congestion report shows at page 89 that on I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), there are roughly 150,000 vehicles per day as compared to only 18,000 daily riders on the parallel Worcester line.