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Cambridgeport senior housing tenants demand bus shelter

Posted by Your Town  October 10, 2011 12:27 PM

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Tenants from a Cambridgeport senior housing development have threatened to swarm into Cambridge City Hall this week if municipal officials will not officially commit to installing a bus shelter they have sought since 2003.

Members of the Tenant Council of the Lyndon B. Johnson Senior Apartments on Erie Street have been requesting a bus shelter at the corner of Erie and Brookline streets on the MBTA’s 47 bus route to protect them from harsh weather.

“We’re not the only ones that don’t want to wait out in the rain,” said John Ramos, president of the Johnson apartments’ Tenant Council. This isn’t just for us, it’s for everyone that rides the 47.”

Ramos said many seniors in the Johnson apartments ride the 47 bus to get to Central Square for groceries and medication, but he said he sees a variety of people waiting at the stop.

Bill Deignan, the city’s transportation program manager, has said the city plans to install the shelter within the next few months. “The city is just going to have to come up with the money to install it,” said Deignan, “and the Department of Public Works will have to clean and maintain it.”

Deignan said the city is awaiting word from a bus shelter company on when it will put in the shelter. The timeframe for manufacturing and shipping is 11-12 weeks.

Ramos said he remains skeptical because he has received letters in the past from city officials stating they will install the shelter, but no shelter was ever installed.

“They’ve promised us on and on, but we’re still waiting out there in the rain,” said Ramos. “And if we don’t see something new from the city that will really convince us that [the shelter] is going in, we’ll protest again.”

On Sept. 25, the Mass. Senior Action Council helped the Tenant Council organize a protest of more than 50 people at City Hall to demand the bus shelter.

The protesters held signs that said “Shelter for Erie and Brookline Street Seniors” and talked to people walking through Central Square about their campaign. They told people that many seniors from their 180-person apartment complex often wait at the stop for long periods of time for the bus in the rain, wind, and snow.

“We thought that the protest outside last week would open the city’s eyes,” said Ramos. “But since now we know it’s going to take even more effort, we’re going straight into the offices in City Hall.”

Members of the group initially had hoped that the MBTA would install the bus shelter, but members claim that the MBTA was uncooperative.

Pam Edwards, Community Organizer at the Mass. Senior Action Council, said the company that installs the MBTA’s bus shelters, Cemusa, refused to put one at that location because nearby trees would block views of the advertisements on the sides of their bus shelters.

Cemusa, an internationally-based company that works with the MBTA, installs and maintains bus shelters in return for advertising revenue.

Cemusa representative David Yagnesak, said that the revenue collected each year is shared with the municipality in which it is located.

The large oak tree located at the corner of Erie and Brookline streets would obstruct a portion of the right side of the bus shelter’s advertisements.

“Positioning is something we definitely pay attention to,” said Yagnesak. “We want to make sure the shelter is installed in a way where people can easily see the advertising.”

Before turning to the city, the Tenant Council asked to the MBTA to install one of its own shelters instead of one installed by Cemusa.

Edwards said the MBTA sent a letter to the Tenant Association stating that they didn’t have adequate funding to put a bus shelter at a location with such a low number of boarders.

Edwards said the MBTA incorrectly quoted the bus line in the letter, calling it the “69” rather than the “47”.

“It was a real slap in the face to the tenants that the MBTA just tried to dismiss them like that,” said Edwards.

Erik Scheier, a project manager of the MBTA, said the quoting of the incorrect bus line in the letter was a mistake. Scheier said the MBTA would love to put a bus shelter at that bus stop, but “it’s not quite that simple.”

Scheier said the MBTA has limited resources, and with about 8,000 bus stops in and around Boston and about 6,000 that need shelters, it’s impossible to provide them all with MBTA bus shelters given MBTA resources.

“We have 15 key bus routes, including the 1, 66, 57, and 73, that get extremely high numbers of riders. These are routes that we are aiming to install as many bus shelters as we can,” said Scheier, “We’re aware that many seniors ride the 47, but we simply don’t have the resources to install one there.”

With both Cemusa and the MBTA declining to install a shelter, the Tenant Council is demanding that the city should install the shelter. Ramos and the Tenant Council plan to protest until they are confident that the city will take action.

“We need to make sure we are heard,” said Ramos, “and we want to hear the real details from the people inside City Hall ourselves.”

Amanda Karakoudas is a reporter for the Boston University News Service, a partnership between Boston.com and the Boston University College of Communication.

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