The 55 Bus Coalition, which consists of neighborhood groups such as the Fenway CDC, the Fenway Civic Association, Operation PEACE, and other residents, held a meeting on June 15 regarding the proposed changes to the 55 bus. Representatives from the MBTA were in attendance to speak about the proposal and answer questions from neighbors.
Marie Fukuda of the Fenway Civic Association provided a bit of recent history regarding the 55 bus, saying that the 55 Bus Coalition held protests at the Jersey and Queensberry St. stop when service was suspended on the 55 in March of 2021, after which service was restored on a limited schedule.
The Coalition also led a community meeting in December of last year to discuss the results of a neighborhood survey it had created, and also continues to be in touch with residents and stakeholders.
Andrew McFarland, Manager of Bus System Enhancements for the MBTA, said that “we really want to hear from you” regarding these proposed changes to the bus.
A draft map is available for viewing and public feedback, and the MBTA said it will consider tis feedback before creating the final map.
“We know that the MBTA bus area has definitely changed a lot over the last few decades,” McFarland said, with “growing job sectors and destinations” in areas like the Fenway, the Longwood Medical Area, Kenmore, and the Seaport. Additionally, “people’s travel patterns have changed” due to the pandemic.
The Bus Network Redesign is a component of the MBTA’s Better Bus Project, which aims to reach five goals: put equity first, create more service in busy neighborhoods, create more all-day service, create new connections to more places, and create a network that is more user friendly.
McFarland explained that right now, the MBTA has proposed to “commit to a 25 percent increase in bus service across the network,” as well as a 70 percent increase in weekend service.
As a result of this, 115,000 residents of color would have access to high frequency service.
Melissa Dullea of the MBTA spoke specifically about the proposed changes to the 55 bus route.
According to a slide presented, “Route 55 has tended to be under-productive,” as well as have “low ridership” and “most of the route duplicates the Green Line at six stations pre-COVID, and now duplicates it at three stations due to Forging Ahead changes.”
The MBTA said that “the new route in the redesign improves connectivity to the Fenway neighborhood, while providing other value to the network by creating cross-town connections that complement rather than duplicate the subway.” Additionally, it calls for a left-hand turn from Boylston St. onto Mass. Ave., which currently is not allowed.
This route is also “contingent on completion of planned accessibility at Hynes,” the MBTA said.
The new 55 route will go to the Longwood Medical area, and the connection to the Hynes Convention Center would provide access to the Green Line.
Dullea said there is a “Plan B” option for before the Hynes is made accessible that would connect the bus at Kenmore Station.
This new 55 route is proposed to run every 30 minutes for 20 hours a day, seven days a week, she said. “Our intention is to restore this back to being a full service,” she said.
After the presentation, attendees were split into breakout groups for discussion before coming back to the whole group for more questions and comments.
Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, said he is a “daily rider of this route,” and said that “the Green Line, under normal circumstances, is basically unrideable…oftentimes I have to wait four or five trains to get on in a reasonable manner.”
He added that the 55 bus was “always full” when he rode it, and said that the bottom line is that this line needs to connect the Fenway to downtown.
State Rep. Jay Livingstone said he has “heard from a lot of constituents” about this proposal. He said that people like the “increased service level,” especially the increased weekend service, as well as the connection to the Longwood Medical Area. He said that folks have really expressed the need for “a stop that’s more in the middle of Fenway,” and people really want the bus to continue to stop at Copley Station.
Many residents, such as Brenda Clark, expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that this route eliminates the stop at Copley Square.
“We need the bus to go to Copley and to downtown and those areas as we’ve been doing for years,” she said.
A resident of St. Cecilia’s House said that “you cannot say that we are running parallel to the Green Line—it’s a mile to Longwood and about three quarters of a mile to Huntington Ave.,” she said, which is especially difficult for seniors and those with mobility issues.
“Listen carefully, all you representatives,” she said. “We want the old service from here to downtown Boston.”
District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok said that “I have heard from many folks, especially our seniors,” who “really rely on the 55” to get around. “I want to amplify the really strong desire to get this line to Copley,” she said, “not just as a T connection, but as a connection to the Boston Public Library, to Copley Square,” and to the Orange Line.
“Frankly, a lot of folks are frustrated that the line no longer runs downtown,” Bok said. “It’s really important for us to get that connection to Copley.”
Bok did praise the proposed increased frequency, saying that she is “hugely supportive of a high frequency bus network that makes a bunch of connections that are not made today. The idea of this bus running more regularly and reliably is great.”
She said that vulnerable residents who have lived in the neighborhood for years should not be discounted and really do rely on this route to get them to where they need to go.
Ajay Singh from the Mayor’s Office said that he “would request the MBTA follow through” on its commitment to equity that it discussed in the presentation.
“It’s clear that the new redesign does not sort of fulfill the request of the residents who are most vulnerable in Fenway.”
Resident Conrad Ciszek said that “I just want to echo the sentiment that the majority of the Fenway residents are not pleased with the plan to reroute the bus through Mass. Ave.”
He said that the Green Line is “congested, overcrowded,” and often delayed, and is “not always a viable option” for seniors and those who use mobility equipment.
The MBTA’s online survey can be found at mbta.com/bnrdfeedback, and feedback can also be submitted to [email protected].
For more information, visit mbta.com/betterbus, as well as mbta.com/bnrd.