The MBTA held a virtual open house regarding the Better Bus Project on August 26, where bus riders had a chance to hear nine mini-presentations on different aspects of bus improvements, before splitting up into breakout rooms to chat with MBTA employees.
“The MBTA wants to make the bus better for its riders,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “It’s important for us to talk about our good intent here.”
He also said that the bus is the mode of transportation that has “come back the most” after the height of the pandemic, and is now between 55 and 65 percent ridership.
The mini-presentations focused on everything from the bus network redesign to fare transformation to amenities at bus stops. Different members of the MBTA team were on hand to present on each of the topics.
Caroline Vanasse talked about the bus network redesign, saying that the MBTA is “focused on the service overall and it’s really just serving streets and connecting them in ways that are better for our riders.”
She said that a survey was recently conducted, and further conversation will be had this coming fall. The goal is to “create a more equitable network that better serves transit-critical populations,” she added.
Melissa Dullea spoke about service changes planned for the fall, as reductions in service were made during the pandemic to accommodate for lower ridership. She said that during the pandemic, the “MBTA also reallocated service to different parts of the system to maintain quality service for transit-critical populations,” and now service is being brought back to 93 percent of what it was before the pandemic. For more information on changes to specific routes, visit mbta.com/servicechanges.
On the topic of fare transformation, Heather Hume, Director of Transition for MBTA Fare Transformation said that future plans include being able to board and pay at the rear door “at the busiest stops on select bus routes.” Additionally, Charlie Cards will become available to obtain and reload at an increased number of retailers. Further information can be found at mbta.com/faretransformation.
Accessibility will also be improved on buses, according to Laura Brelsford, who talked about a pilot already in place on 10 buses throughout the system for automated securement of wheelchairs and other mobility devices. This will be quicker than the current system of the driver having to stop the bus to manually secure mobility devices.
Karti Subramanian spoke about some amenities at bus stops, including solar powered e-ink screens that will be added to more stops this year to provide up-to-date information on buses right at stops themselves.
He said that there are 18 signs in six municipalities that are providing “real-time” information about bus arrival. Approximately 20 more stops will receive these screens this year, and “high-priority service alerts & other stop-specific information” will also be added.
Subramanian also spoke about “new ‘gold standard’ bus shelters,” such as the ones being installed on Columbus Ave. in Roxbury that feature seating, fare vending machines, as well as an overhang for shelter from the weather. Real time information is also provided at these stops, he said.
Shelters like these will also be added to other “bus priority corridors” as well, he said.
The MBTA also has a new “street furniture” program that includes a partnership with ad company Intersection “to deliver ride amenities at bus stops & raise new revenue,” according to a slide presented at the meeting. It also allows for “co-investment opportunity with municipalities for system-wide rollout.”
The first two are planned for this coming winter, and additional kiosks will come in the future.
For more information about the Better Bus Project, visit mbta.com/projects/better-bus-project.