Time to talk about buses

Stifled by congestion, we need to get them moving

We spend a lot of time talking about gondolas and autonomous vehicles, but not enough time talking about buses. Yeah, buses.

report issued this month by the Livable Streets Alliance said the MBTA bus system is being stifled by congestion on Boston streets. It noted congestion along just seven miles of the city’s roadways is causing delays for more than one-fifth of all MBTA bus riders, delays that contributed to an 8 percent drop in bus ridership in 2016.

The report put much of the blame on the city of Boston. “The MBTA may own and operate its bus fleet, but, increasingly, riders are being underserved by streets, traffic signals, and bus stops managed by the city of Boston,” the report said.

On this week’s Codcast, Josh Fairchild of TransitMatters chats with Andrew McFarland, community engagement manager at the Livable Streets Alliance, and Kathryn Carlson, director of transportation for the business-backed group A Better City.

McFarland called the situation a “transit crisis” and said too many riders view buses as unreliable and  inconvenient. There is also a social equity angle to the issue, as statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council indicate black bus riders spend 64 more hours per year on buses than their white counterparts.

Key thoroughfares where congestion is a major problem are Washington Street running between Roslindale and the Forest Hills Orange Line station, Massachusetts Avenue in the Back Bay and South End, Warren Street in Roxbury, Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury and Mattapan, and Brighton Avenue in Allston.

McFarland said there’s no mystery about the steps that need to be taken to improve bus service, including more dedicated bus lanes. But it’s not getting done. “There is a lot more the city can be doing to prioritize these projects,” McFarland said.

Carlson said she went on a trip to Seattle last year and discovered that bus ridership is going up there because the city has made a commitment to moving buses through traffic faster.

Meet the Author

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.

Fairchild remarked on the “aggressive language” the report uses about lack of effort by Boston, which prompted Carlson to say no one is blaming the city. She said the business community and the city are partners in the effort to improve bus service.

“We think this is an amazing leadership opportunity for the mayor,” she said.