A community meeting regarding the 55 bus in the Fenway neighborhood was held on December 7, where about 85 people came to listen to updates and share their opinions on the bus.
City Councilor Kenzie Bok kicked off the meeting by talking a little bit about the 55 bus and where it stands now.
“In November 2020, the MBTA announced some pretty drastic cuts across the board,” Bok said, including reducing some service and completely slashing some bus lines—the 55 was one of them.
Bok said that there was a “huge amount of upset and protest against this,” and in March of this year, service on the 55 bus was suspended.
Residents and activists gathered at the Jersey and Queensberry stop Sunday after Sunday to protest the suspension with signs. Bok said that this support “stressed how important it was for the community” to have this bus line for seniors and others needing to travel around for doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and work.
Following these protests and meeting with the MBTA, service was restored on the 55 bus, but not fully. Right now, the bus only runs from 10am to 4pm.
Bok added that “we also felt as though it’s been a challenge in these COVID times to do the full outreach we need to do,” including holding a large multilingual in-person meeting.
“We heard some really moving testimonies over the course of that protest period,” Bok said, adding that there has been a “really strong community effort to date.”
State Rep. Jay Livingstone offered remarks on the MBTA Bus Initiative, which began before the pandemic and aims to make some changes to various stops and routes.
“The MBTA is looking at restoring these routes in the context of this planning that has been underway,” he said, adding that in winter or spring of next year, there will be a “much firmer plan of the changes they want to make in this region to be adopted by the end of next year.”
Kimberly Hutter from State Sen. Will Brownsberger’s office went through some data that had been compiled for the 55 bus. She said that “2020 was an abnormal year, especially in ridership,” so the 2019 data is being used to gain a better understanding of how residents use the 55 bus.
She said that the “most frequent use of service” in the 55 bus is going inbound to downtown.
“This route served commuters exiting the Fenway area,” she said. “We know that in 2020, that has significantly changed for a lot of people. Other riders are using it throughout the day, but at a much lower capacity.”
Before the pandemic hit, she said that the 55 bus was in the “lower quarter of buses.”
Additionally. 6.2 percent of the neighborhood is 60 years of age or older, and Hutter said that this is “driven by the high percentage of young adults who live in the Fenway neighborhood.”
She also reported that Fenway residents are “twice as likely” to not own a vehicle when compared with the rest of the city.
“There is a high need for the alternatives to driving and that Fenway has unique access to the workplace from living in the neighborhood.”
Hutter also said that the pandemic’s long term effects also need to be taken into consideration, as the number of people commuting may never return to pre-pandemic levels as working from home has become more normalized in many fields.
Cassidy Trabilcy from Jay Livingstone’s office, Kennedy Avery from Kenzie Bok’s office, and Marie Fukuda from the Fenway Civic Association spoke about the Fenway bus survey that was conducted by the Fenway CDC, Operation PEACE, and the Fenway Civic Association, along with Councilor Bok, Rep. Livingstone, and Sen. Brownsberger.
Though this survey only represented a small number of Fenway residents, the results help paint a picture of how the community uses the bus.
Trabilcy reported that the average age of respondents was 49 years old, and 70 percent of them were in the workforce, 20 percent were retired, and about 5 percent were students.
Kennedy Avery said that 70 percent of respondents said they do not own a car, while 29 percent said they do.
Marie Fukuda provided some feedback from residents about how often they would like to take the bus, and many respondents stated that they would like to take it at least daily, especially in the evenings and on weekends.
Before breaking out into smaller groups to discuss bus use further, a poll was conducted on Zoom asking attendees if they would prefer “routes that go to the front doors of destinations” with reduced frequency in service, or “straight routes that stay on major street streets within walking distance of destinations” and a higher frequency in service.
In all, 24 percent of respondents preferred the first option, while 76 preferred the second option.
Within small groups, attendees discussed what they would like to see from the 55 bus and transit in general in the Fenway neighborhood.
Many different ideas were discussed, including from the fact that continued development in the neighborhood, especially residential units, will contribute to the need for more reliable and frequent public transit service in the neighborhood.
Also, Conrad Ciszek said that in his group, people said that those with disabilities will have to rely on the MBTA’s the RIDE service without access to the 55 bus, which will “result in more expenditures and costs to the MBTA,” he said.
We will continue to work with our elected officials, the MBTA, and other stakehold- ers…” said Tracey Hunt, a Community Coordinator with Operation P.E.A.C.E. She urged residents to ask the Boston Planning and Develop- ment Agency (BPDA) for more transit planning in the Fenway as well as participate in the December 8 MBTA public meeting regarding changes to winter service.
Additionally, residents can join the campaign planning group by reaching out to Cassie White of the Fenway CDC at [email protected]
The bus survey is also still available and residents are encouraged to take it at this link: https://tinyurl.com/fenwaybussurvey.