At the MBTA’s Watertown Yard terminal, just across the line from Newton, waves of commuters Thursday morning hopped on popular express buses and zipped off to their jobs around Copley Square or downtown Boston.
When the No. 52 bus rolled up, though, only a handful of riders stepped aboard. The passengers included students, workers transferring in Newton Centre, and others heading to points south in West Roxbury and Dedham.
The No. 52 may not run as frequently or be as packed s the express buses, but its route along the spine of Newton, past schools, quiet residential neighborhoods, colleges, and a center for the blind, provides such a crucial service that it’s worth saving, city officials and riders say.
“It wouldn’t do,’’ Kevin Darnell said of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s proposal to eliminate the No. 52 bus route. Darnell, gray-haired and lanky with a preference for clove cigarettes, travels from Watertown to a doctor’s appointment near Needham Street every Wednesday on the bus because he doesn’t have a driver’s license. “It would throw a wrench into the system.’’
Since the MBTA announced earlier this month that it may scratch the route under two potential scenarios aimed at closing a $161 million projected deficit, Newton officials and residents have rallied to save the No. 52 bus, which runs between the Watertown Yard and the Dedham Mall.
Mayor Setti Warren and several state representatives penned a letter to the state Department of Transportation’s secretary, Richard Davey, asking that transit officials consider options besides the elimination of entire routes as part of its deficit-cutting effort, which combines fare increases and service reductions.
Last week, about 300 riders, including many residents with disabilities and their advocates, crowded into a room at Newton City Hall for the first of the T’s 22 scheduled hearings on the proposed changes.
The sessions will continue at various Greater Boston locations until March 6, and the MBTA board is expected to vote on a plan in April.
“The T understands that a number of these proposals are particularly unappealing, and that’s why public comment from those who use these services is very important to us,’’ Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA’s director of communications, said in an e-mail.
The analysis on which routes to eliminate was based on the cost of providing the service, and is an effort to cut out duplication in geographic areas, he said.
According to the MBTA’s analysis, the average subsidy for a rider on the No. 52 bus is $4.97 on weekdays and $7.17 on Saturdays, higher than a vast majority of the routes, he said.
According to ridership figures from April 2010, more than 650 people boarded the No. 52 inbound and outbound each day. The No. 502 bus, an express service between the Watertown Yard and Copley Square in Boston, had more than 1,200 boardings, the T’s figures show.
Mike Wroe, who sat at the back of No. 52 one day last week, said he knows that his bus is much less packed than others, but it also is his only option.
Wroe rides the bus from his home in West Roxbury to the final stop, a few blocks from his office at Watertown High School.
Wroe said navigating his car to work and back became too stressful, so three winters ago he opted for the calmer bus ride, and hasn’t regretted it. The driver chimed “Goodbye’’ when he exited the bus, and the only interruption during the 30-minute ride was from an older couple talking on a cellphone.
If the No. 52 bus was eliminated, Wroe said, he would have to take two buses and the train to get to his job with the Watertown school district. That’s not a commute he is willing to make.
“I’d go back to driving,’’ Wroe said. “I’m not going to go miles out of my way.’’
Newton resident Erik Ross hopped on the No. 52 at Centre Street and took it to the T’s Newton Center Station, where he picked up the Green Line to go into Boston for his job as a medical technician. Ross said his city doesn’t have too many bus options, and he would prefer rate hikes to losing routes.
Service cuts could force more people into cars, and add to Newton’s congested streets, said Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan.
“We’re very concerned about it ruining the villages,’’ he said.
But, primarily, No. 52 is key to people who live and work in Newton and surrounding communities, Hess-Mahan said.
While the city has many affluent residents, “not everybody is part of a three-car family,’’ Hess-Mahan said, and many rely on public transportation.
Transit agency officials should consider increasing fares or running the No. 52 less frequently, instead of completely eliminating the route, said Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer.
“To wipe out the route gives no options,’’ he said.