Three years ago, MBTA planners proposed a common-sense measure to help speed up the 39 bus, the second-most popular bus line in the city, which connects Jamaica Plain, Longwood, and the Back Bay. An improvement plan proposed eliminating several redundant stops, including one in an absurdly dense cluster of stops along a short stretch of Centre and South streets in Jamaica Plain. Unfortunately, when a minor controversy ensued, the T backed off too easily.
The T’s usual standard is for bus stops to be between 750 feet and 1,320 feet apart, so it was entirely reasonable for the agency to target at least one of the four stops within less than a quarter mile of roadway in Jamaica Plain. Fatefully, though, the agency proposed to eliminate one near the Harvest Co-Op. When the food store complained, the T gave up on the idea.
But repeated up and down a route, the T’s understandable aversion to offend those who use an individual stop, or a prominent business nearby, makes for grindingly slow trips for riders as a whole. It’s also a damper on the economy. The reliability of the 39 bus, in particular, is a key concern for employers in the Longwood Medical Area, who have chafed at the poor transit options for employees.
Speeding up buses is not rocket science. But successful strategies almost necessarily involve tradeoffs. The T has planning processes underway for major bus routes that will likely lead to recommendations for a more rational arrangement of stops on busy routes. When the inevitable backlash ensues, the agency’s leadership needs to show a stiffer spine.