Why can’t Logan get bus pickup right?

Massport needs to make using public transit easier

MY LAST THREE FLIGHTS into Logan Airport have all ended the same way: with disappointment. It has become painfully clear that Massport, a state agency claiming to be green and committed to sustainability, can’t be bothered to make sure airport curbs function safely and conveniently for bus and shuttle riders.

Air travel is recovering from pandemic level lows – TSA entries are inching up ever closer to 2019 numbers – and our roads have been congested even before vaccines rolled out. Massachusetts needs an “all hands on-deck” approach to reducing traffic congestion and associated carbon emissions, and Massport has an important role to play by encouraging travelers to use mass transit to reach or leave Logan Airport.

Massport talks a good game about its commitment to sustainability, but when it comes to supporting transit access to and from Logan, its rhetoric collapses in the face of harsh reality. Perhaps the most glaring example of its neglect of transit access to and from Logan is Massport’s deliberate choice to turn a blind eye toward the importance of having Silver Line buses pick up passengers at the terminal curb, rather than the middle of an active traffic lane.

This failure to properly manage and enforce the curb disrupts and endangers passengers choosing to take transit, forcing them to lug bags across a “parking” lane and lift bags onto the bus. Often the bus doesn’t even try to get to the curb, causing transit riders to traverse two or three lanes of speeding car traffic. This isn’t transit-friendly.  This isn’t safe for passengers. This isn’t acceptable.

Imagine the harried traveler with two roller bags, or young children, or elderly travel companions, or those with disabilities. Instead of creating a seamless experience in which these travelers disembark right onto the terminal curb, Massport’s customer service for these folks is “take your chances by crossing active traffic lanes.” But this is about more than substandard customer service. By not enforcing cars idling or parking in bus stops, Massport is potentially not compliant with federal law, specifically the American Disabilities Act.  It’s also driving up emissions, both by encouraging idling and degrading the experience for passengers who want to use transit.

Massport’s neglect of bus transit safety and service quality speaks to a fundamental lack of respect for transit riders, one that threatens the future of transit just as it begins to recover from the pandemic. A world class airport deserves a world class transit experience and Massport is not delivering anything close to that.  Even though Massport has access to a plethora of highly paid consultants in the region, we at TransitMatters are ready to provide, free of cost, a short list of simple, straightforward and affordable policies and interventions that can turn the “Green Massport” narrative from an empty talking point to reality.

One of the key problems we notice is that without enforcement, the lane closest to the curb gets overwhelmed by drivers for transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, and private vehicles there for pick-up and drop off (especially at Terminal B). It’s not practical or advisable to have State Police stalk every Silver Line and shuttle stop. The only way to avoid this regularly occurring problem is by protecting the space with infrastructure or removing private vehicles and rideshare vehicles from certain portions of the curb.

One option: build concrete bump outs for bus stops and extend the sidewalk out into the parking/former shuttle lane, creating a curb space parked cars can’t use. This would enable buses to serve passengers from a travel lane and provide a level boarding platform for riders with disabilities. This, of course, assumes that Massport and the State Police will enforce a “no cars” policy in those locations, and experience shows that neither organization has an appetite to do that.

Another option would be to replicate the situation at Terminal C, where buses pick up passengers from boarding islands. Cars typically travel slower there since there are fewer lanes and a lot of crossing traffic. Raised crosswalks and motion activated flashing lights should be used to encourage safer crossings.

A better solution may be to require cars to use the upper level, where buses cannot fit, and restrict the lower level to buses, shuttles, and shared-use vans only. To maximize curb space, the sidewalk can be widened at the bus stops so that buses can stop in the second lane and not pull over, and vans could use the first lane in the other spaces since they have longer dwell times. This could happen next week.

Beyond infrastructure solutions, airport transit services themselves must be improved.  The Silver Line 1 & 3 routes should at minimum begin and end service based on flight times, i.e. service should allow all Logan passengers and workers to get in and out of Logan via transit. Massport already pays for Silver Line service inbound from Logan to lower dwell times; paying for late night transit is the next logical step. It’s frustrating (and expensive) to arrive at Logan after a late flight and be confronted with few options other than a long taxi line and exorbitant Uber or Lyft surcharges. That’s not customer service.

Passengers board a Silver Line bus away from the curb at Logan International Airport. (Photo by Jarred Johnson)

Shuttle service from the Blue Line station frustrates and discourages riders by stopping for lengthy periods at the consolidated rental car facility.  Not every shuttle needs to do this; Massport should be able to design a shuttle service plan that serves travelers using the rental car facility and travelers who have arrived via the Blue Line and simply need to get to their terminal on time. A simple fix: when shuttle buses leave the Blue Line station, the majority should head directly to the terminals.

Finally, the Back Bay Logan Express shuttle remains shuttered. If anything, Logan Express should be expanded to cover more routes throughout the region, with routes prioritizing connections to the transit system (before the pandemic, Massport was planning to launch a route to North Station) and running all night. Further, Massport should be fighting to reopen the Ted Williams Tunnel ramp for daily bus use and pushing for shared use rush hour bus lanes. These actions will have a cumulative effect of improving the transit rider experience to and from Logan.

Meet the Author

Jarred Johnson

CEO and development director, TransitMatters
Logan Airport is uniquely well served by the Blue and Silver Lines, with easy proximity to the Central Business District and Seaport District. It should play to these strengths. Massport has dedicated transportation planners; they need direction from their leadership to make public transit and shared use transportation a much better experience than it is today. TransitMatters is prepared to collaborate with them in a spirit of problem solving, designed to support a better transit experience throughout the airport landside facility. If Massport does nothing but maintain the unacceptable status quo, it will actively push people away from more sustainable options to reach the airport.

Jarred Johnson is executive director of TransitMatters.