T spending $2.2m on replacement bus service
High subsidies during weekend commuter rail shutdowns
THE MBTA SAID ON MONDAY it intends to spend roughly $2.2 million on heavily subsidized station-to-station bus service for commuter rail customers who are left without train rides on weekends during the installation of a crash prevention system.
T officials said they originally planned not to offer the replacement bus service, but bowed to pressure from riders and local officials in affected communities. Even if T projections about ridership are correct, the subsidies will range from a low of $17 per trip on the Newburyport/Rockport Line, which will be shut down on weekends from July 8 to Sept. 30, to a high of $57 a trip on the Fairmount Line, which will shut down from Nov. 24. to Dec. 24.
The officials said the ridership projections are very speculative, in part because there is no way of knowing how many commuter rail customers will make the transfer to the much slower buses. “Whether they will use that service we won’t know until we start running the buses,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack.
Officials said the Newburyport/Rockport, Lowell, Needham, Haverhill, and Fairmount Lines would be the first ones to shut down on weekends during the installation of the federally mandated crash prevention system, called Positive Train Control.
Pollack said the T originally planned to offer no replacement bus service when the weekend shutdowns occur, in part because it’s much easier to get into Boston on weekends and there are a variety of travel options. But she said those plans were scrapped when riders and political officials complained.
T officials earlier this year proposed discontinuing some or all weekend commuter rail service to save money, but that plan was also scrapped when riders and their political representatives complained. Gov. Charlie Baker eventually ruled out weekend shutdowns.Several members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board expressed concern about the high subsidies and whether the T could reduce the number of buses providing replacement service if no riders are on them. T officials said it would be difficult to reduce the number of buses on a particular line once service is launched, but they said it is possible to shift deployments when shutdowns occurred on other lines.
The officials said they intend to monitor traffic on the buses in the first two weekends the Newburyport-Rockport Line is shut down and then use that information to help set service levels on the Lowell Line, which shuts down on weekends from Aug. 5 to Oct. 1. Officials cautioned that each line is different, and the customer usage on one line may not translate to another.