The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) discussed the upcoming temporary service changes, including the suspension of bus route 52 that passes through Newton, at a public meeting last Wednesday. The changes, which are set to begin in March and April, are a result of 11 public meetings that wrapped up in December during which residents provided feedback on the proposed service changes.
Kat Benesh, MBTA chief of operations strategy, policy, and oversight, presented the service changes that will go into effect on March 14 and April 5 as part of the Forging Ahead initiative, which was created in response to the MBTA’s $580 million budget shortfall due to decreased ridership during the pandemic.
“The Forging Ahead process was really trying to identify with limited resources rather than reducing service everywhere in the system, how do we make sure that we continue to provide what we would say is our minimum acceptable service,” Benesh said.
The cuts that were proposed as part of the MBTA’s Forging Ahead initiative included stopping commuter rail services on weekends and weekdays after 9 p.m. and eliminating all ferry services in early spring.
Benesh said that the Fiscal Management and Control Board voted on and approved all the changes on Dec. 14.
“Since that vote, we have received additional funding from the federal government, which is being used to offset some of those changes approved in December,” Benesh said. “Specifically, we are not implementing all of the changes. And we are restoring some of the late night commuter rail service that was also approved by the board in December.”
Benesh said that they received $300 million through the CARES Act, II after the vote in December. The money will be used to restore bus service and to continue to provide commuter rail service on weekdays after 9 p.m.
“Those funds will be used entirely to reimburse our operating expenses consistent with the funding guidelines,” Benesh said. “That then allows us to use 300 million in net revenue dollars for other expenses.”
The Blue, Orange, Green, and Mattapan lines, as well as many bus routes and the Fairmount commuter rail line, are deemed essential services because they are highly transit critical routes, according to Benesh.
The board determines highly transit critical routes based on an analysis of use by communities of color, low income populations, households with no or low car access, and a high number of senior riders or riders with disabilities. The MBTA has also deemed that these routes have high ridership potential, according to Benesh, meaning they had high ridership before COVID-19 as well as throughout the pandemic.
The MBTA will be suspending service on bus route 52, which passes through Newton, beginning on March 14. Other routes affected include 18, 55, 68, 79, 212, 221, and 465, which will also be suspended. Benesh recommended that riders of these routes visit the MBTA route planner website to map an alternative route.
Dina Rosenbaum, chief program officer at the Carroll Center for the Blind, brought up the hardships of the suspended bus routes. Located on Centre St. in Newton, the center serves the blind and the visually impaired through services including vision rehabilitation, vocational programs, and educational support.
“We are very disappointed about the suspension of bus 52 which is a lifeline to the Carroll Center and our neighboring schools,” Rosenbaum said.
Frequency will be reduced on the green line, orange line, and red line beginning on March 14, according to Benesh. She said that riders on these lines will have to wait between one to three minutes more than prior wait times.
The commuter rail stations Plimptonville, Prides Crossing, Silver Hill, Hastings, and Plymouth will also be closing beginning on April 5. Weekend service will be suspended beginning on April 5 for the Greenbush, Plymouth, Fitchburg, Franklin, Lowell, and Needham stations.
According to Benesh, services will be adjusted based on crowding and demand. The concerns voiced by the T’s customers in this meeting are reminiscent of previous meetings regarding the board’s cuts.
Laurie Bent, member of the Weston select board, said that the closing of two stops, Silver Hill and Hastings, on the Fitchburg line is shortsighted. According to Bent, these cuts will make it increasingly challenging for elderly members of the community to travel throughout Boston.
“Closing the Hastings is a terrific hardship on an elderly rider who takes the train to his cancer treatments in Boston,” Bent said. “And, he now has to walk a mile to Kendall Green through the snow on a busy road.”
John Berezney, a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University, said that he is dependent on the Fitchburg Commuter Rail for his research in biophysics. He said that his research does not end on the weekend or at 5 p.m.
“These changes have proved to me that there’s not really a commitment to public transportation in Boston,” Berezney said. “I am forced to now buy a car and move.”
Despite much pushback from Massachusetts residents as well as Massachusetts elected officials including Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and Newton City Council, the MBTA will continue forward with its service reductions. This Wednesday, the board will hold a public meeting to explain the services changes set to take effect this spring.
“We are trying to change service to better reflect our ridership, and fundamentally ensure that we will continue to preserve and provide quality and reliable service for transit critical communities,” Benesh said.
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor