T notes: Closing of HOV lane on I-93 hit
Could late-night service be on chopping block – again?
TRANSPORTATION ADVOCATES criticized state officials on Monday for eliminating the high-occupancy-vehicle lane on I-93 while repair work is being done on the Tobin Bridge and the stretch of elevated highway leading up to the bridge in Chelsea.
Chris Dempsey, the director of Transportation for Massachusetts, predicted the temporary elimination of the lane on I-93 will worsen the situation for commuters. But a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation issued a statement saying the agency’s data indicate “this may have a positive impact on the travel network during this major construction operation.”
Patrick Marvin, the DOT spokesman, did not spell out in his statement how the positive impact would come about, but other transportation officials indicated drivers who would normally come in on Route 1 over the Tobin Bridge may shift to I-93 if all of the lanes there are open to drivers. The shift in traffic, even if it’s small, could ease congestion coming over the Tobin, they said.
But transportation advocates said the new approach will penalize those who currently use the high occupancy lane. They also said the approach runs counter to the Baker administration’s stance that transportation policies should be focused on moving people, not cars.
James Aloisi, also of TransitMatters, tweeted a similar sentiment. “If you’ve commuted sustainably from the north into Boston on a bus or carpool you’ve just been pushed aside by @MassDOT highway department whose only solution to manage traffic is to eliminate HOV lanes.”
In his statement, Marvin said MassDOT plans to monitor the closure of the high-occupancy-lane on I-93 and make adjustments as needed. “The HOV lane has well-established legislative protection and MassDOT does not plan to make this condition permanent,” he said.
To ease traffic on Route 1 during the Tobin and Chelsea construction, the T is also running additional Blue Line trains, offering free service on the Silver Line 3 bus at certain stops, and allowing CharlieCards to be accepted on commuter rail between North Station and Chelsea.
Last call for all-night service?
No final decision was made on Monday, but members of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board seemed to be leaning toward eliminating one element of a late-night bus service pilot project that has attracted few riders.
The late-night bus pilot launched in September 2018 as another bid to offer round-the-clock service on the T. The pilot had three elements: increased service on routes with crowding or high ridership between 10 p.m. and midnight, extra “last trips” after 12:30 a.m. on routes with high ridership, and new service on several major bus routes between 1 and 3 a.m.
The late-night bus pilot followed on the heels of an early morning pilot, which launched in April 2018 and was so successful that it was made permanent last December. Overall, the goal of the two pilots was to provide all-night service, something that’s been tried several times over the last 20 years with no success.
Benesh said the first two elements of the late-night bus pilot did a good job of attracting new riders and/or reducing crowding on buses. The third element did neither, attracting a median of 6 to 8 boardings at a high subsidy of $16.30 per trip. The other two elements had subsidies of $4.30 and $5.30 per trip.
Several members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board indicated they were in favor of pulling the plug on the third element of the late-night bus pilot while continuing the other two. “The consensus here was category 1 and category 2 are working, but category 3 is really struggling,” said Joseph Aiello, the chair of the control board.
Two projects remain in limbo
Two high priority MBTA projects – an anti-collision system on commuter rail and a new automated fare collection system — remained in limbo on Monday.
Karen Antion, who is overseeing development and installation of the anti-collision system, said after two weeks studying the problem Siemens still had not been able to track down what is causing its hardware and software to malfunction. “It’s starting to look like a software problem,” she said.
Meanwhile, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said he is continuing to talk with Cubic Corp. about an extended timetable for the new fare collection system it is developing for the T. The company acknowledged recently that the delivery date for the system might have to be delayed, but has given no cause.
One area that might be slowing things down is the complexity of the T’s fare system. Control board officials on Monday discussed all the permutations of existing fares that would have to be programmed into the new system along with the capacity to add new types of fares based on distance traveled or time-of-day travel. It sounded very complex.
South Shore commuter trains to leave later
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said he is going to push back the departure time of the last train from Boston on the Greenbush, Middleboro, and Kingston/Plymouth lines until around 11:30 on weekdays and weekends.The decision was a testament to the perseverance of Richard Prone, a retired Amtrak engineer from Duxbury who testified week after week before the Fiscal and Management Control Board on the need to have a later departure time for trains leaving from Boston so residents of the South Shore could attend events in Boston and not have to rush home early.
Poftak said the schedule change is conditional, meaning it will be revisited in a year’s time to see if the expected increase in ridership materializes.