T notes: Bus shelter maintenance pricey

Capital spending plan vague on Red-Blue connector

MBTA OFFICIALS WANT want to dramatically increase the number of bus shelters, but the annual estimated maintenance cost of $7,000 per year is proving to be a major roadblock.

The T estimates a fairly standard bus shelter costs $40,000 to purchase and install, while the annual cost of maintenance and snow removal would total $7,000. The maintenance estimate includes two, 30-minute visits per month for incidental maintenance and two-hour visits four times a year for scheduled maintenance.

The MBTA currently has 170 shelters it owns and maintains and another 170 owned and maintained by a private operator under contract with the transit authority. The shelters maintained by the private operator bring in about $170,000 in annual revenue to the T. The city of Boston owns another 280 shelters jointly owned and fully maintained by the same private operator. Several other municipalities in the MBTA operating area own about 20 shelters.

All in all, there are 640 shelters at 8 percent of the 7,810 bus stops in the MBTA system. The T would like to double the number over the next three years and add amenities such as panels informing riders when their bus will be arriving.

Evan Rowe, the T’s director of revenue, suggested the best way to proceed would be to have the T purchase and install the shelters and work with municipalities or private companies to handle the maintenance. Rowe said the approach would make sure the shelters are not concentrated exclusively in high-traffic areas favored by advertisers while providing better maintenance and amenities.

Members of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board were skeptical, asking for more information.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, executive director of the 128 Business Council, said she has built bus shelters as part of her job and was doubtful annual maintenance costs would be as low as $7,000. “I don’t think $7,000 is going to come anywhere close to actually what it costs to maintain these shelters,” she said.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said it was unlikely many municipalities would be eager to pony up the annual maintenance cost for shelters, but she thought the T could find private entities that would be interested in participating. “I feel like there are lots of potential partners,” she said.

Rowe said current plans call for the T to put out a request for proposals in the fall, award the contract in late 2019, and deploy the shelters from 2020 through 2023.

South Coast Rail, Red-Blue connector get short money

An early draft of the MBTA’s $8 billion capital spending plan for fiscal 2020 through 2024 includes major funding for the Green Line, but there appears to be little money for South Coast Rail and a proposed connector linking the Blue and Red subway lines.

According to the draft, $1.3 billion will be spent on the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford and new vehicles to carry passengers on the line. Another $915 million is slated for what is being called the Green Line transformation, which includes new, high-passenger-capacity vehicles and track and signal infrastructure. Another $1.5 billion will be spent on Red and Orange line vehicles and improvements and $204 million on a new fare collection system.

South Coast Rail, which would link Boston to Fall River and New Bedford, is listed in the draft as a $42 million project with $9 million slated to be spent between fiscal 2020 and 2024. That number seems very low, with officials estimating last fall the remaining cost of the project at $800 million. State officials have said they are working on a funding plan for South Coast Rail, so perhaps the remainder of the money is coming from other sources.

The capital spending plan appears to provide no money for the proposed West Station in Allston, whose timing is uncertain. And it provides only $15 million for four proposed expansion projects, including a proposed connector linking the Red and Blue subway lines.

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the Fiscal and Management Control Board and a proponent of the Red-Blue connector, said the $15 million figure was inadequate and needs to be redone.

Bus route changes get go-ahead

The Fiscal and Management Control Board told MBTA officials they could proceed with plans to change 36 bus routes starting next fall as part of the Better Bus Project.

T officials said the route changes will inconvenience some passengers but should improve service overall. Igor Slootsky of Swampscott is one of those passengers who will be inconvenienced. He testified at the meeting that the decision to eliminate Route 459, which runs from the North Shore into the Seaport District, will prompt him to buy a car and start commuting to work that way.

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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.

The T’s proposal would direct passengers like Slootsky to take another bus to the Blue Line at Wonderland and commute from there to the Seaport District. But Slootsky said that approach would require him to make three transfers and take way too much time.

“This is completely unacceptable to the people who do this commute on a daily basis,” he said.