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Confusion, frustration and some praise for MBTA bus stop changes

Posted by boston.com  November 18, 2013 02:24 PM

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Aida Velazquez-Santiago/Globe Correspondent

An MBTA sign informing riders of a bus stop change in front of Northeastern University.

The MBTA’s recent move to relocate bus stops along 15 of its busiest routes has prompted reactions ranging from confusion to praise from frequent riders of the 39 bus route, which cuts through Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain, and the 66 bus route, which cuts through Mission Hill and Brookline.

“At first, I was upset about it. But once I started living with the changes, I am a bit happier,” said Eli Waimberg, who frequently takes the 39 bus to Northeastern University.

Waimberg, like other passengers, said his initial negative feelings were because he was unaware of the upcoming changes. Although the MBTA had done a massive outreach campaign, the message didn’t reach a lot of frequent riders.

Emily Sichel, who takes the 39 bus multiple times a week, had been away from her apartment for a week due to a foot injury. When she returned home, she said she was surprised by the disappearance of her regular bus stop.

“One day, I went out to take the bus and it [the stop] was gone,” said Sichel. “The sign was gone, and there were parking spots there.”

Scott Kennedy, a web developer who takes the 66 bus from Allston to Harvard Square, had the same experience. “It wasn’t something I was aware of at the time,” he said.

Yet, according to the MBTA, prior to the changes, there was extensive public outreach, including “over 50 meetings done to try to notify the public,” said Kelly Smith, a spokeswoman for the agency.

“There was a lot of outreach to make sure that that they [the community] were aware of the meetings,” which included participation from riders and community representatives.

In addition to the meetings, the MBTA attempted to notify riders of the changes through signs posted at the bus stops, Smith said.

But riders such as Sichel said they weren’t aware of the meetings or other messages.

“If they put notifications up, it clearly wasn’t even a week before the changes, because I didn’t see them,” said Sichel, a graduate student at Suffolk University. “I didn’t know about any [meetings]. If I had known, I probably would have gone.”

That lack of knowledge about the changes -- part of the MBTA’s Key Bus Route Improvement Program – was a common refrain among riders.

“I saw the bus stop was replaced with no parking signs. I was surprised,” said Maria Soto, who has been riding the 39 bus for the past 14 years.

Smith acknowledged that there has been some confusion over the recent changes, but stressed that it was important for riders to understand that the changes were made in order to make the MBTA bus service better.

“There is a learning curve whenever you change things that have been in place for a long time,” Smith said.

She said some Mission Hill riders have contacted the MBTA with concerns about the recent changes.

“Luckily, customers have contacted us and let us know, and we’ve had some outreach to them to try and clear up the confusion,” she said. “Hopefully, those issues have been taken care of -- but there doesn’t seem to be a very large outcry for any issues that have happened.”

The 15 “key” routes reconfigured by the MBTA carry about 40 percent of the T’s total bus ridership and serve high-density travel corridors, primarily in Boston. The T hopes that the bus stop changes will make each route about 10 to 15 percent faster. The goal is for there to be a bus stop every 750 to 1,320 feet, or about four to seven stops per mile. Many stops were as close as 200 feet.

Although bothered by the changes at first, Waimberg and some other frequent riders say they have noticed an improvement in service.

“I can now get to Northeastern in six minutes instead of almost 15 minutes,” he said.

Alisa McGann, a frequent rider of the 39 bus, praised the improvements made to the bus stops. As part of the program, the MBTA improved passenger amenities at some stops, including new shelters, benches, signage, and trash barrels. The agency also made improvements to bus accessibility and extended some bus curbs.

McGann, whose husband takes her son to school everyday on the 39 bus, said that even though the bus stop closest to their home was relocated, the family doesn’t mind, due to the improvements.

“I prefer having a real bus waiting zone. It’s more accommodating,” she said.

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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