The MBTA has recently released its plans for a “Better Bus Network” program, which will make changes to many bus lines across the system. One such line is the #55 bus, which many Fenway residents have relied on for service around the neighborhood and to downtown.
During the pandemic, service was suspended along the line, which led to many residents becoming upset and protesting each Sunday outside the stop at Queensberry and Jersey Streets. Last spring, service was restored along the line, but not to pre-pandemic levels.
According to the MBTA, proposed changes to the #55 bus include extending the route from Fenway to the Longwood Medical Area and will remain on Boylston St. in the Fenway neighborhood. The bus will not run between Hynes Convention Center and Park St., and riders are encouraged to use the Green Line instead. The route will also no longer serve Kilmarnock, Queensberry, and Jersey St., and riders should “travel less than 1/4 mi to Route 55 on Boylston St.,” according to a chart created by the MBTA.
The Sun spoke with Ishraq Boutaleb, a Community Organizer for the Fenway CDC, which is a member of the 55 Bus Coalition.
“I think it’s pretty fair to say that we’re disappointed in these changes,” Boutaleb said. She said that the coalition does “appreciate the MBTA’s consideration for the ADA compliant stations,” which will allow the bus to stop at Kenmore Station until the Hynes Convention Center station is accessible.
She said that there is “frustration and disappointment that it will no longer go to Copley,” as the station has “been a prized destination of the route,” as it leads to many resources downtown, including the Copley branch of the Boston Public Library which is right next to the bus stop.
“Many seniors and others rely on the route to get to the library and connect more easily to downtown without having to make too many transfers,” Boutalieb said.
Additionally, she said that the “fact that it starts on Queensberry and Jersey St. now” is “very significant,” as many seniors live in that area and “reduces the distance they’d have to walk to get to transportation.”
Boutaleb also spoke about the MBTA’s timeline for submitting feedback on these changes.
“It feels a bit rushed,” she said, and a “Fenway-specific community meeting” was not originally scheduled. “We had to ask for one ourselves just to fill in that gap,” she said. That meeting will take place on June 15 and will provide an outlet for Fenway residents to provide feedback about the bus route. The MBTA is collecting community input from May to August.
Boutaleb said that the coalition’s “priority to to ensure that community voices are incorporated into the process and that not only are we heard, but more so that we are listened to.”
She added that the members of the coalition recognize that they “are not transit planners and are not trying to dictate the exact route,” but rather “want to guarantee that the route does serve all Fenway residents.”
Though the newly proposed route “might be great for researchers or Longwood Medical Area workers,” Boutaleb said, “we feel it sort of disregards seniors and folks will mobility challenges” and removes options that had been there previously.
“Ideally, we want to maintain access to Copley and some direct connectivity to downtown,” she said.
Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, said in an email to the Sun that “while I support the idea of a changed and expanded 55 bus I had hoped it would continue to service our community as a vital link to the library, Star Market, and City Hall. Instead it has been rerouted so that it no longer serves the Fenway in any capacity at all. Other routes like the 57 travel from Newton all the way to Copley. Those routes are much longer and it would seem the 55 could be extended to serve both the existing use and the prospective connection between the research areas.”
Horn said that he believes it could go “at least to MGH” for a connection with the Longwood Medical Area.
“I hope it is not set in stone as the Fenway is being thrown under the bus,” he continued, saying that the trains are usually “completely full” and that people have to wait for several trains to come and go before they can fit on one.
A community survey has been created for Fenway residents to fill out, and the community meeting on June 15 will be another opportunity for folks to speak up about their wishes for the route.
Right now, the MBTA plans on implementing proposed changes across the entire bus system beginning in 2023, and will carry on incrementally. “It’s not going to happen all at once,” Boutaleb said.
“We encourage folks to be attending the MBTA’s public meetings,” she said, and for “Fenway residents to be in contact with our coalition and attend the meeting on June 15.”
Right now, no more protests at bus stops have been scheduled, she said, but these other measures are being taken to “make sure we’re not left out of the community process.”
To register for the June 15 Fenway community meeting, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAqf-2hrDkrHdHxVAPTuvO99EBaLa_GLZd2.
A Boston-wide MBTA meeting regarding the Bus Network Redesign is also being held on June 2, and to register, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZItcuChqz4iHtNKwzpd0qCM-JhX4wBPmsYA.
For more information about the Bus Network Redesign in general, visit mbta.com/projects/bus-network-redesign.