T notes: Bus network redesign coming next year

Pads suspected in March 16 Orange Line derailment

THE MBTA plans to begin phasing in a redesign of its entire bus network starting a year from now.

T officials, who not long ago overhauled many of the system’s individual bus routes, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that they are now at work on redesigning the whole network to focus service in core areas and along busy corridors.

They offered few details, but said the redesign will attempt to get the vast majority of T bus riders to their destinations faster by redrawing routes, working with cities and towns to create dedicated bus lanes, and offering better connections to trains and subways.

While the emphasis was on the positive benefits, T officials said there will be tradeoffs involved in the redesign that will negatively affect some passengers. Christof Spieler, a consultant working for the T, said he helped Houston redesign its bus network and in the five months leading up to implementation complaints outnumbered positive comments 333 to 1.

“This is going to be a heavy lift,” said Steve Poftak, the general manager of the T, warning that change will be very difficult.

In developing the redesign, the T is relying on anonymized data from cell-phone users that have opted into location-based applications. T officials said the data will allow the T to track traffic patterns across all providers (passenger vehicles, Uber, Lyft, etc.) and determine where best to deploy buses.

T zeroing in on cause of Orange Line derailment

MBTA officials say they are close to determining what caused a new Orange Line train to derail on March 16, with the focus now centered on pads attached to the truck frames that allow the vehicle to turn.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the T, said extensive testing suggests the pads as they age tend to grip harder, increasing tension and making it more difficult for the vehicle to turn. He said the T is now doing a microscopic materials analysis of the pads and will keep all new Orange and Red Line trains out of service until the root cause of the problem is identified and addressed.

The T is in the process of replacing all its Red and Orange Line trains, so the stakes of working out all the bugs are enormous.

The Orange Line train derailed at a slow speed as its was transferring to a different track near Wellington Station on March 16. The initial focus was on the train switch itself, which was 46 years old. But Gonneville said the pads are now the focus of the investigation by the T, the train manufacturer CRRC, and other companies that produce key parts for the vehicles. He promised to update the Fiscal and Management Control Board at its June 7 meeting.

Riders flock to T on Fridays

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said ridership is highest on Fridays, particularly on the bus and subway systems, but gave no explanation for the phenomenon.

“The trend has been Friday is consistently our heaviest ridership day of the week,” Poftak said in briefing the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday.

He said subway ridership hit its highest level so far this year on April 30, with more than 150,000 passengers. The Friday phenomenon is also holding true for bus service, which hit 200,000 passengers on April 9 and came close to that level again on April 30.