#111 bus now getting attention from the MBTA

Route now has most bus-only lanes in system

THE MBTA’S 111 bus is one of the transit authority’s busiest routes. It runs from Everett through Revere and into Chelsea, where it picks up most of its passengers. It continues over the Tobin Bridge into Charlestown before heading to the T’s Haymarket Station via the North Washington Street Bridge.

For years, passengers have complained about overcrowding and the bus’s snail-like pace. Congestion along the route was a key contributing factor, as has been construction on the Tobin and North Washington Street Bridges. The T also used to regularly take buses off the 111 route to augment equipment shortfalls elsewhere, which only accentuated the 111’s problems.

In August 2018, the Boston Globe ran a story about the 111 bus saying the route encapsulates all the problems with the T’s bus service. A month later, at a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, frustration boiled over. Advocacy groups demanded lower fares on the route to compensate for the poor service.

“Why are we paying the exact same fares for the worst service in the state?” asked Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of the advocacy group GreenRoots.

Brian Lang, a member of the control board, pressed T officials on whether the 111 bus was failing to get the agency’s attention because most of its riders are poor, working-class immigrants. Chelsea officials agreed. “If this were to happen in Newton or Wellesley, I certainly believe the problem would have gotten more attention,” said Tom Ambrosino, the city manager in Chelsea.

Flash forward three years and the situation is markedly different. Bridge construction remains an ongoing issue, but the T has built bus-only lanes on three key sections of the 111 route, which allow the bus to move unencumbered through traffic.

Passengers boarding the 111 bus at Haymarket.

The most recent bus-only lane officially opened on Tuesday, running north along North Washington Street between the Haymarket T stop and the North Washington Street Bridge. A south-bound lane on North Washington previously opened.

There are two other bus-only stretches along the route and a third under development – one runs for a third of a mile along Broadway in Chelsea, another is an inbound lane on the Tobin, and a third running southbound will be up and running on the North Washington Street Bridge when the new bridge opens in 2023.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

All in all, the bus-only lanes cover roughly 1.5 miles of the 6.5-mile route, or about a quarter of the distance. The 111 is one of the top four routes in terms of passenger traffic on the entire system and now it has the distinction of being the T bus route with the most bus-only lanes. The 111 bus carries about 7,100 passengers on a typical weekday, which is about 68 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

María Belén Power, associate executive director of Greenroots, said the bus-only lanes have made a difference. “From our experience, bus lanes have improved the experience on buses, in particular the 111,” she said. “Even though we have found that it takes a lot of time for folks to get adjusted to new traffic design and patterns, especially drivers who need to get used to not driving on the bus lane or need to get adjusted to merge in and out of bus lanes, for bus riders, which is the majority of Chelsea residents, bus lanes have improved the experience on the 111.”