Bus renaissance underway?
New service, dedicated lanes, synchronized lights all part of effort
Buses aren’t as sexy as new Orange Line cars or the extension of the Green Line into Somerville and Medford. But they are a lot cheaper to buy and much easier to operate. Which is why a bus renaissance of sorts is happening – a series of initiatives that hold the promise of changing the transportation landscape in a relatively short period of time.
On this week’s Codcast, Chris Osgood, the chief of streets for the city of Boston, and TransitMatters guys Jim Aloisi and Josh Fairchild sing the praises of buses and a series of initiatives to both expand and improve bus service across the metro area.
The expansion revolves around two initiatives that use buses to help make the MBTA a 24/7 operation. One, launched April 1, moved up the starting time of eight key bus routes to as early as 3:20 a.m. The new routes are designed to meet heavy demand from people starting work very early in the morning. Osgood said anecdotal evidence suggests the new service is doing well. “It’s been well received and they’re getting really good ridership,” he said.
The second initiative would launch a pilot project to extend limited bus service through the rest of the night to meet demand primarily for workers going home or heading to work between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. The T has included $2 million in its budget for fiscal 2019 for late night bus service, but details remain a bit sketchy. It’s likely the T will operate the service (no private contractors bid on the work) and the route will run from Mattapan through downtown to East Boston and Chelsea. Aloisi said the one-year pilot will probably launch in the fall.
The city of Boston is currently running a test of a dedicated bus (MBTA and school) and bicycle lane on Washington Street between Roslindale Square and Forest Hills. With funding from the Barr Foundation, which has made improving bus service a top priority, planning is underway for dedicated bus lanes running through Cambridge, Watertown, and Arlington.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is seeking to raise parking fines and plans to use $5 million of the proceeds to make a number of bus infrastructure capital improvements and to fund a dedicated transit team that would focus on bus service.Aloisi said the city’s approach makes sense, particularly at a time when streets are choking on traffic. For too long, he said, the city streetscape has primarily benefited car drivers, even though the taxes of bicyclists, pedestrians, and bus users all support it.
“They’re all paying the same share of tax dollars. They all need to be treated equitably,” he said.