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Transportation Committee Chair Shares Both Praise and Hesitation Over Proposed MBTA Bus Changes

Burlington Transportation Committee Chair Rick Parker has some criticisms and a bit of praise for the MBTA’s draft proposal for new bus routes. 

As reported on BNEWS, the MBTA has launched what it is calling the Bus Network Redesign as part of the broader $8 billion Better Bus Project. The program involves the adoption of new bus routes based on surveys and studies the organization has conducted and the elimination of other routes. 

“Greater Boston has changed significantly in recent years, with shifting demographics, emerging employment districts, increasing traffic congestion, and changing travel patterns,” it says on its website. “The Bus Network Redesign completely reimagines the MBTA’s bus network to reflect these changes and create a better experience for current and future bus riders.”

According to the MBTA, the route redesign will provide commuters with 25 percent more bus service and 70 percent more weekend service. It also states 275,000 more residents would be near high-frequency service (buses running every 15 minutes or better, 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week) and that 115,000 residents of color and 40,000 low-income households would gain access to high-frequency service. 

However, the changes will impact different places in unique ways and the MBTA is seeking feedback from riders who will be impacted. To that end they are holding a series of virtual information meetings about how different regions will be impacted and on Wednesday held one focused on the Burlington, Winchester and Woburn routes. In Burlington the proposed route changes include removing Bus 354 and making alterations to the route of Bus 350. It also includes adding a route of Bus 94 to cover parts of town along Middlesex Turnpike. Click Here to view the regional route proposals.

Parker spoke to BNEWS after the meeting and said while overall he thinks the proposed plan is a good one, he is concerned about the idea of removing the 354 Bus because it is a direct route into Boston that residents of numerous suburban towns, including Burlington, seem to enjoy having as an option. 

“With the route you can get on in Burlington, take a nap, and end on State Street,” he said. “It gives people an opportunity to get into Boston without using a car.”

Parker wasn’t alone in objecting to the move. During the MBTA’s meeting there were a number of residents along the route who say they use the bus regularly and that it is often full to the point of “standing room only.”

“If it’s standing room only then it should not be cut,” Parker said. “There was a strong response and I think the MBTA heard that loud and clear. 

Parker, who is also president of the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce, did say he was optimistic of the proposed Bus 94 route because it could be a good way to get employees from Boston and other towns to jobs in Burlington. He said this could be beneficial both to the retail and hospitality sector and also life science companies and Lahey Hospital because the route starts near the area of Tufts University.

“This gives us an opportunity to tap into underemployed areas and could connect workers with wages that are perhaps higher than their current situation,” he said. “And beyond restaurant and hospitality workers, this route goes right to the center of Davis Square and that allows the life science companies here to find employees college graduates who likely don’t have a car.” 

However, Parker said it all depends on some details that have not yet been ironed out, especially concerning hospitality employees. In the presentation the MBTA said the route that would connect to Burlington’s restaurant areas “may run as late as 1 a.m.” and he wants that to change to “will run as late as 1 a.m.” for those working in restaurants. Also, because the MBTA plans to roll out the new routes between 2023 and 2028, Parker said he hopes the new route will be launched sooner than later. 

“The major part of my focus is going to be to prioritize the implementation of that route and make sure it meets the needs of the employers,” he said. 

The MBTA is still seeking feedback on the Bus Network Redesign and there is an online survey residents can fill out by answering questions about their bus riding routines and needs for service. Click Here to fill it out. The MBTA said it will collect feedback through the summer and start to finalize the new routes in the fall.