T shows a willingness to experiment

The MBTA tried something new on Saturday.

When the MBTA shuts down a subway or commuter rail line for repairs, standard operating procedure is to run replacement bus service along the exact same route. It’s a policy that has been in place at the T for a long time. It is also a practice that is being used more and more as the agency tries to tackle its backlog of repairs.

But is it the right policy in all situations?

With the T preparing to shut down the Red Line between Harvard and Alewife on weekends from November 10 through December 2, Jim Aloisi of TransitMatters sent Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the T, a proposal developed by his TransitMatters colleague Ari Ofsevit. Ofsevit and his TransitMatters colleagues have a fairly good track record when it comes to developing new approaches for the T.

Ofsevit suggested an alternative approach with the replacement buses. Instead of running buses from Harvard to Porter to Davis to Alewife – all the regular subway stops – Ofsevit suggested running replacement buses along two routes. He proposed one route running from Harvard to Porter to Davis, returning along the same route. The other route would run from Harvard to Davis to Alewife, with the return trip going straight from Alewife to Harvard.

Under Ofsevit’s proposal, three of the buses picking up passengers at Harvard would ply the Harvard-Porter-Davis route and one would run the route to Alewife. Ofsevit estimated his shorter, simpler routes would cut travel time in half and require half as many buses to carry the same number of passengers.

For passengers, Ofsevit estimated most would see no change or only a slight change, except those traveling from Alewife to Harvard, who would save 10 to 12 minutes of travel time. The only passengers facing longer trips would be those traveling from Alewife to Davis or Porter, but Ofsevit estimated there weren’t many of them.

The key assumption in Ofsevit’s proposal was that few people use the commuter-focused Alewife on weekends, which means most buses running between Davis and Alewife under the T’s standard approach were running near-empty most of the time.

Ofsevit said he initially pitched his idea in a blog post in 2016, but it didn’t go anywhere. Gonneville says he received Ofsevit’s pitch this year – via Aloisi — around the time of the Red Sox World Series victory parade. Gonneville says he never got a chance to talk to Aloisi, but he shared the idea with his team at the MBTA. Hearing nothing from Gonneville, Aloisi passed Ofsevit’s proposal along to CommonWealth, which published it on November 5.

Ultimately, the T decided to give Ofsevit’s idea a try on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m., but instead of two routes the agency decided to run three routes. One route ran express from Harvard to Alewife. A second ran from Harvard to Alewife making all stops. A third ran to Davis Square only.

“We did it with no fanfare,” Gonneville said, which he acknowledged created some consumer confusion.

Gonneville said the T is still sifting through the data it gathered, but it sounds like the new approach may be tried again. Gonneville said the operational logistics were complicated and his head of bus operations recommended two routes, not three, next time.

Ofsevit heard about the T experiment on Saturday from a TransitMatters colleague and raced over to Harvard to see for himself. By the time he arrived, the experiment was over. He was disappointed he didn’t get to see it in action, but he was excited the T gave it a try. On Sunday, he published a follow-up on his blog that praised the transit agency for trying something new and offered some suggestions for similar experiments during upcoming subway repair shutdowns.

“To everyone involved in the planning and operations staff at the MBTA: kudos and thank you,” he wrote. “It’s always a risk to try something new, and to listen to some guy ranting on the internet. You did both. I hope it worked. I hope that it will work in the future, and that the T uses these sorts of situations to try new things to continue to provide the best possible service to its customers.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker calls for a Newton district court judge whom he appointed to the bench last year to be suspended from hearing cases while a federal grand jury considers whether she aided a federal defendant elude immigration officials. (Boston Globe)

A bill filed by Baker a year ago to ease zoning rules to allow for more housing construction remains stalled in the Legislature. (Boston Globe)

Baker defends his administration’s controversial clampdown on gun licenses. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A move to bring in a lot more plumbers dramatically accelerated the restoration of gas service to customers in the Merrimack Valley. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan are rushing in lame duck sessions to pass laws limiting the power of newly elected Democrats to reverse course in a number of policy areas. (NPR)

Veteran Republican operative Ron Kaufman praises former president George H.W. Bush the man for his human touch. (Boston Globe) Joan Vennochi says any appraisal of bush has to consider “how low he was willing to go” in his Willie Horton attack ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988. (Boston Globe)

The World Series champion Red Sox have accepted a White House invitation to go to DC and be honored there. (Boston Herald)

ELECTIONS

An economic downturn could make Donald Trump a one-term president — just as it did to George H.W. Bush, writes the Globe’s Larry Edelman.

ARTS

Miami is in line for $37 million in arts grants from the Knight Foundation. (Miami Herald)

EDUCATION

Hate acts have “become mainstream” in Massachusetts schools, says the head of the Anti-Defamation League of New England. (Wicked Local)

Sororities and fraternities sue Harvard to block its ban on single-gender social groups. (WGBH)

UMass Amherst names Walt Bell, the Florida State offensive coordinator, as its next head coach. He will earn less money at UMass — $650,000 — but he will become one of the highest-paid state employees in Massachusetts. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

A bid to open a new charter school in Haverhill faces strong opposition from Mayor James Fiorentini and public school teachers, but it’s getting support from parents, particularly those that send their children to charters. (Eagle-Tribune)

Hampshire College has removed the name of a late professor from an endowed fund and a room at the college named in his honor based on allegations of sexual misconduct with a student from the 1970s. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board is pondering the transit authority’s role in a “mobility marketplace” filled with ride-hailing, car-sharing, and bike-sharing companies, not to mention autonomous vehicles. (CommonWealth)

T notes: The capital delivery arm of the MBTA has 80 job openings currently…An early morning bus service pilot is doing well, but late-night service is off to a slow start…A new executive director of commuter rail may be coming.

For the first time in more than three decades, an entrance from the Penn’s Hill neighborhood to the Quincy Adams Red Line station is now open, saving residents there a 1.5 mile loop to reach the station’s Burgin Parkway entrance. (Patriot Ledger)

Boston business leaders say the MBTA could learn something about improving bus service from the approach taken in Mexico City. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

More on the decline of US recycling under new China rules. (Governing)

The Massachusetts bald eagle population is rebounding with state help. (State House News)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

A Globe editorial rips the Walsh administration for dragging its feet in licensing marijuana shops, a stance that the paper says may harm minority entrepreneurs hoping to enter the business.

East Boston residents are speaking out against a possible pot shop there, saying it’s too close to a local mental health clinic. (Boston Herald)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Incoming Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins defended a Facebook post by a member of her transition team saying assistant DAs will be questioned on the issue of “what it means to be a gangster,” but it’s not really clear what the underlying message is. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Nexstar seeks to acquire Tribune Media for $4.1 billion. The deal, if approved by federal regulators, would make Nexstar the biggest operator of local TV stations in the United
States. Nexstar owns only one station in Massachusetts — in Springfield. (Hollywood Reporter)

Two weeks after acknowledging that child pornography had found its way on to its website, Tumblr announced it will remove nearly all adult content as of December 17. (The Hill) Not everyone is pleased. (Boing Boing)

PASSINGS

Arthur Remillard Jr., a philanthropist who founded Commerce Insurance of Webster and sold it to Mapfre in 2007 for $2.2 billion, died in Boca Raton, Florida. (Telegram & Gazette)