MBTA Better Bus Proposal Gets High Reviews from South End Users

A new effort by the MBTA to improve bus routes – unveiled last week within the Better Bus program – features major changes for riders in the South End, Back Bay and Fenway amidst a proposal that seeks to make 47 changes to 63 of the existing routes systemwide.

Wes Edwards, MBTA assistant general manager of service development, said they have 47 changes that were unveiled for discussion on Jan. 28. He said they will be soliciting input at several public meetings and online through March 13.

“We did a lot of outreach over the summer with the Better Bus initiative and fare and wide we heard frequency and reliability as the biggest issue,” he said. “The package is to bring more reliability and frequent service to our customers…There are trade-offs to a lot of these because we have made all of them cost-neutral so we are just re-positioning service and not creating anything new.”

He said the same number of buses, operators and investment would be used, but just in a different configuration.

One of the biggest changes for the South End and Back Bay is the consolidation of the CT1 route with the massively-busy #1 route that runs from Dudley Square to Harvard Square mostly via Massachusetts Avenue.

The change combines two busy routes that basically mirror one another, and the idea is to combine the resources into one more steady and frequent route. Right now, the CT1 runs from Boston Medical Center and up to Central Square in Cambridge via Massachusetts Avenue.

Similarly, the #1 bus runs from Dudley Square to Boston Medical Center and then up Massachusetts Avenue to Harvard Square – virtually the same path.

Melissa Gullea, MBTA senior director of service planning, said they are simply investing the resources more wisely.

She said both routes don’t have a coordinated schedule and so the two bus routes often bump up against one another.

“The CT1 serves a part of the BMC campus, but omits Harvard and Dudley Squares that are on the #1,” she said. “We can focus the resources of the CT1 so the #1 functions better. Because they aren’t evenly spaced out, you get artificial bunching that is created by the different schedules. We think we can alleviate the artificial bunching there due to the schedule.”

Carol Blair, of Chester Square, is a long-time advocate, and sometimes critic, of the #1 and CT1 buses. She said it’s a plan she’s hoped would emerge for many years.

“I believe combining CT-1 with #1 will give us more frequent and reliable service,” she said. “The two routes are largely redundant, often bunching, and it looks to me like the ridership may be stratified. I also hope we’ll follow Cambridge’s example. They already have dedicated bus lanes on Mass Ave. If we can free buses from Mass. Ave. congestion, not only will passengers save a total of 32 work days every weekday, but also MBTA’s cost to provide the service will go down. Imagine if the bus were to complete a round trip in half the time, then bus and driver productivity would be doubled – not to mention improvements to morale for drivers and riders.”

Other changes include eliminating the loops around BMC and South Bay Shopping Center on the #8, giving a more direct route from the South End to UMass Boston.

“The last time I rode the #8 those two loops took a half hour,” commented Blair. “I think I could have walked it three times. As MBTA continues to evaluate bus routes, I hope they’ll find a way to give us a one-seat ride from Harvard to U-Mass.”

The #47 bus has also has some changes to its route, and that will be critical as new projects like The Smith and Exchange South End come on line. Already, as part of those projects, a dedicated bus lane on Albany Street has been proposed to house the #47. However, the route will see much more use in the coming years, Blair pointed out.

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