Orange Line prototype at City Hall

Orange Line prototype at City Hall

T odds & ends: Bus service revamp, pilot projects

MBTA OFFICIALS SAID A PROTOTYPE of the new Orange Line car will be available for public viewing next Monday through Wednesday at City Hall plaza in Boston.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s chief operating officer, said staff will be on hand to take feedback from passengers on what they like or dislike about the new car. He said T staff have already gone over the new car and are preparing a series of design changes for the manufacturer, CRRC of China. CRRC will build the cars at a new $95 million factory under construction in Springfield.

CommonWealth toured the Orange Line prototype last week. For a rundown of some of the major features, click here.

Dealing with bus overcrowding

The MBTA has spent about two years figuring out what causes bus overcrowding, and is now prepared to do something about it.

T officials told members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that buses don’t just become crowded because there aren’t enough of them running. The officials unveiled charts showing which bus routes are the most crowded and why. Most of the explanations centered on the frequency of pickups, the variability of consumer demand, and dropped trips.

T officials said they plan to respond to overcrowding by putting more buses on the street, reallocating existing buses from low-ridership to high-ridership routes, dispatching buses better, working with municipalities to open bus-only lanes, and decreasing delays as people board and pay. The officials said they would first analyze what’s causing overcrowded buses in each district serviced by the T and then develop a plan to address the problems. The proposed solutions would be ranked good, better, and best.

The control board reviewed four options on how to proceed, and concluded informally that it favored the two most expensive options that addressed the problem the quickest. One option would spend $3.9 million to analyze and develop a response over the course of 21 months. The other would spend $6 million and take 18 months. The costs would be paid out of a fund for capital projects the T has slowly been building.

No final decision was taken by the control board on Monday.

Several board members raised concerns about the all-consultant approach to the problem, and urged T officials to come back with an option that develops some in-house employee capability in analyzing and resolving bus overcrowding issues.

Control board member Steve Poftak raised concerns about the ultimate cost of the program, which won’t be known until after the analysis is done. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack acknowledged the uncertainty, but said she believed in proceeding with the analysis. “It’s still worth it to go into a process even without knowing what will come out the end,” she said.

New policy on pilot expansions

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board approved a policy guide for pilot expansion projects that requires the proposals to have detailed costs and goals that, if unmet, will likely result in the termination of the pilot.

Board members have been wary of expanding service at a time when budgets are being cut and service reductions are being proposed. Nevertheless, the board indicated it was in favor of a new pilot policy.

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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.

Four pilot expansion projects have been proposed, including launching commuter rail service from Boston to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, extending commuter service from the Middleboro-Lakeville Line to Bourne on Cape Cod, initiating year-round ferry service between Lynn and Boston, and establishing overnight bus service in Greater Boston.

T officials said only the Foxborough and overnight bus service proposals remain on the table, with backers of the other two initiatives deciding they didn’t want to go through the pilot review process. Joseph Aiello, the chair of the control board, told T officials to encourage all those who want to participate to do so.

  • casmatt99

    How on earth does it take 18 to 21 months to figure out that ridership exceeds capacity on the same bus routes day after day? In what universe does this require a study to come to the conclusion that more buses and more drivers are needed?