Riders seek alternatives as T cuts bus, rail service
Riders are scrambling to find alternative rides after the MBTA trimmed several bus routes serving Newton, Waltham, and Watertown and eliminated Saturday rail service to Needham.
While riders change plans, local officials are pushing the State House to come up with sufficient funding to make future cuts unnecessary.
Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer, said the city is working with state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey “on everything from how these cuts impact the city of Newton to coming up with new funding streams.’’
Bus service cuts include elimination of the 500 express bus from Riverside Station to the Financial District in Boston, which now runs on weekdays, and the end to Saturday service on bus routes 52 and 554, which already do not run on Sundays.
Riders who depend on the 52 bus, which runs from Dedham Mall along Parker and Centre streets in Newton to the Watertown Yard at Galen and Watertown streets, will have no other public transportation option along that route, according to the T website.
Riders of the 504 bus between Waverley Station on Trapelo Road along Beaver Street to the Central Square Waltham Station also will have no other options. Riders on that route from Central Square Waltham, up Moody Street to River Street in Newton to Washington Street in Newtonville can catch the 553 bus, trackless trolley 73, or the Fitchburg rail line to downtown Boston, according to the T website.
The MBTA also voted last week to eliminate 13 other bus routes with low ridership, including routes in Jamaica Plain, Quincy, Woburn, North Beverly, and West Roxbury.
Rooney said Newton is looking at ways it can replace some of the Saturday route cuts, particularly the 52 bus, which runs along Centre Street and serves students at the Carroll Center for the Blind, whose residential students rely on public transportation.
“It’s a huge victory that it was retained during the week, but there is still a major impact,’’ Rooney said.
John U. Harris, who said he has been taking the bus from Newton to his job on Federal Street every morning since the 1970s, said the cuts were inevitable.
“It used to be standing room only, but I’ve watched people fall by the wayside,’’ he said after getting off the 4:10 bus from Boston Monday afternoon with just three other passengers.
“It’s never crowded anymore; they drove us away,’’ he said, adding that parking, fare hikes, and schedule and route changes have frustrated riders.
Without the 500 bus, scheduled to be eliminated July 1 along with other service cuts and rate hikes of 20 to 30 percent to help close a $160 million budget deficit faced by the MBTA, Harris is looking at other bus routes to get him to work.
One option the Weston resident is not looking at is the subway, which is the alternative suggested by the T, according to its website.
Even though he parks his car at Riverside Station every morning to catch the bus, Harris said the 20 stops along the Green line into Government Center mean his ride goes from the 25 or so minutes he spends on the bus, to well over an hour.
“I had a dentist appointment this morning, so I missed the last bus [at 8:25]. I got on the train at 9:30, and I didn’t get to work until after 10:30,’’ he said.
And while riders are frustrated, officials are looking to a bleak financial future for the MBTA and vowing to fight for reform.
Needham Finance Committee member Richard Creem, who is also chairman of the town’s Transportation Committee and a member of the executive committee and finance committee of the MBTA Advisory Board, called the service cuts, “anathema’’ to everything the T stands for.
He said Needham officials are asking their State House representatives to make wholesale reforms before looming budget woes necessitate even more drastic cuts next year.
“The most alarming part of all of this is that the T is looking at another massive deficit again next year,’’ he said. “The Legislature has to carry the ball here and find some permanent solutions for funding public transportation.’’
Creem suggested looking at the gas tax to raise more revenue for the T and looking at rolling the Transit Police force into the State Police instead of having a separate department.
This move could potentially trim $36.3 million annually from the T budget, according to its website, but would not necessarily be a savings for the state, which would have to pick up the cost of the transit officers.
One scenario Creem worries about is the proposal that had been on the table for this year to cut all commuter rail service after 9 p.m.
“We are grateful that was not done,’’ he said. “To put that kind of artificial cap on the workforce would be untenable,’’ he said. “It would have created a situation where people would have been forced to drive into Boston.’’
That proposal was rejected by T officials, but the cut to the Needham line puts pressure on workers who make the reverse commute from Boston to jobs in the suburbs, Creem said.
One woman, who identified herself only as Yee, got off the morning Needham train from her home in Chinatown last week for her job as a seamstress at a shop in town.
“I take the train every day to work because I don’t have a car,’’ she said, adding that while she does not like having to pay more to get to work, she had no choice.
She could still get to work on Saturday by taking a Green line train to Newton Highlands, where she could catch the 59 bus to Needham Junction, according to Creem.
But that adds considerable time to her commute, as it will for others who make the reverse commute from Boston to work at one of the town’s four nursing home and assisted living facilities, manicure salons, and restaurants.
“I don’t have any specific figures, but I can tell you by anecdotal evidence there are a lot of reverse commuters,’’ Creem said.
They are facing the same dilemma as Harris and his friend Neil A. Gordon. The two met on the 500 bus in 1988.
“I take the 500 to Federal Street at 6:15 every morning and the 4:10 home every afternoon,’’ said Gordon, who is frustrated by the T.
“If you’re trying to do business with people, you don’t raise prices and lower service,’’ he said.
Gordon, who drives to Newton from Wayland, and Harris said they will switch to the 505 bus into Boston from West Newton and are currently scouting out places to park.
Whatever they find will probably not be as convenient as parking at the Riverside lot, which costs them each $5.75 a day for now, going up to $6 on July 1.
“Look around; it’s empty,’’ Gordon said. “The only time this lot is full is for Red Sox home games.’’