Forty Watertown residents attended Monday’s meeting about the MBTA 71 bus route at the Coolidge School Apartments, and many expressed concern about the proposed removal and consolidation of stops, as well as the reasoning for relocating stops or adding amenities at certain stops and not others.
The 71 bus route, which operates between Watertown Square and Harvard Square, is currently ranked the 14th busiest bus route, with over 5,300 daily riders – including people riding the bus round trip, according to MBTA Transportation Planner Jeremy Mendelson. The meeting was part of the MBTA's Key Bus Route Improvement Program, which seeks to provide enhancements on the 15 busiest MBTA bus routes including increasing reliability, speeding up service, adding passenger amenities, and improving accessibility.
MBTA officials assured residents that all recommendations are in the preliminary phase and that input is being sought. Mendelson also emphasized that any stop removal would be to increase reliability of service, not to hinder it.
“It’s about better stops, fewer stops, and faster service, ultimately,” Mendelson said.
According to the presentation, reliability includes eliminating overcrowding and bus bunching. The MBTA is looking into computerized tools to monitor and control bus arrivals. There are also mobile and smartphone applications available on MBTA.com which predict bus arrival times. The 71 route has a travel distance of 4.3 miles, and according to the 2008 Biennial Service Plan, has an on-time performance of 74 percent, Mendelson said.
Residents argued that the on-time performance of the 71 route has decreased from the claimed 74 percent since the 2008 study.
In order to speed up service, the program seeks to remove or consolidate several bus stops in order to provide less delays and shorter trips. According to Mendelson, challenges which currently exist include poorly located boarding areas with restricted access and areas affected by snow clearing. Some bus stops have an obstructed path of travel, either by street parking or crosswalks.
According to the presentation, the ideal spacing between bus stops is 750-1,320 feet, which equates to four to six minutes in walking time. The average distance between stops on the 71 route is 775 feet, with some as close as 380 feet. The benefits presented of removing or consolidating bus stops include shorter trip times, greater reliability, and the reduction of the stop-and-go sensation, according to Kurt Steiner, Transportation Planner for McMahon Associates.
According to Mendelson, amenities to be added include waiting shelters, benches, trash receptacles, and better signage. The MBTA also seeks to make the buses more accessible to ease ridership for senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
The MBTA plans to further research not only where riders are getting off, but where they are coming from, as well as seek feedback from bus drivers and the training school, according to Steiner.
All proposed recommendations for the 71 route are still in the preliminary phase, Steiner said. The implementation process will involve more community meetings, incorporation of public comments, coordination with other cities and towns, and finally, the design and construction phase.
According to literature distributed at the meeting, the Key Bus Route Improvement Program is being implemented with the help of a $10 million grant funding through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
A meeting will be held in the fall of 2011 about improvements to the 73 bus route from Harvard Square to Waverley Square in Belmont, which is also part of the program, and was said to be the thirteenth busiest bus route, Steiner said.
For updates on improvements to the 71 bus route, or for updates on the Key Bus Route Improvement Program, visit www.MBTA.com/keybusroutes.