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Newton leaders push back on MBTA proposal to slash seven express bus routes

The 504 express bus picks up passengers in Watertown before heading into downtown Boston.Rebecca Bicalho for the Boston Globe

Newton’s leaders are pushing back on a sweeping redesign of the MBTA’s bus network that would scale back the number of express bus routes serving the city.

Under the plan, 10 express bus routes that had served Newton before the pandemic would be whittled down to three lines: the 501, the 504, and the 505.

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, City Council President Susan Albright, and Council Vice President Rick Lipof warned in a letter last month that changes in Newton proposed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority could worsen the region’s traffic woes.

Instead, city leaders are calling for the city’s express bus service to be restored to how it worked before the pandemic, including three lines that were suspended during the health crisis. They also want the MBTA to work with the city on a bus network that takes advantage of expected upgrades to the city’s commuter rail stations.

“We find the proposed changes to our Express Bus network in Newton to be very concerning, especially in light of the current challenges of our Commuter Rail system,” they said in the May 20 letter to Steve Poftak, the MBTA’s general manager.


The proposed bus service changes in Newton are part of the MBTA’s Bus Network Redesign project, which is intended to address changes in commuting, employment destinations, and travel patterns in the region.

The redesign’s goals include expanding the number of people living near high-frequency service; including people of color and residents with low incomes; increasing bus service across the network; and offering more weekday, evening, and weekend service, according to the department.

The proposed changes to the bus network have been the subject of several public meetings, the MBTA said. The changes in Newton and nearby communities are expected to be the focus of a virtual session on Tuesday, June 28 at 6 p.m.


More information about the upcoming meeting is available on the MBTA’s website.

The redesign proposal is expected to be voted on by the MBTA Board of Directors in the coming months, the agency said in a statement to the Globe, with a phased implementation starting in 2023 and running for five years.

“It is important to note the network that emerges from the Bus Network Redesign is not meant to be a static map, but will continue to evolve as the region evolves, and new housing, work hubs, and other destinations develop,” the statement said.

Newton has historically been served by express bus routes into Boston, and before the pandemic several of them created direct connections between Newton’s villages and places like the Financial District and Copley Square.

But during the health crisis, the MBTA suspended the 170, 502, and 503 Express buses. It also cut back service on the 553, 554, 556, and 558 bus routes, which now end at Newton Corner instead of continuing to downtown Boston, according to bus route information provided to the Globe by the city of Newton.

Many of those changes — implemented as ridership plummeted during the pandemic — would be made permanent under the MBTA’s proposed plan, according to the city.

* The 170 Express Bus, which ran from Waltham through West Newton to Copley Square and Nubian Station in Roxbury, was suspended during the pandemic. It is not included in the MBTA’s proposal.


* The 502 Express Bus, which ran from Watertown to Copley Square via Newton Corner, has been merged with the 504 Express Bus, which stretches from Watertown to the Financial District via Newton Corner.

* The 503 Express Bus, which stretched from Brighton and ran to Copley via Newton Corner, has been merged with the 501 Express Bus, which connects Brighton to the Financial District via Newton Corner.

The MBTA’s proposal would not include midday or weekend service for the revamped 501 and 504 express lines, according to the city.

* The 505 Express Bus, which connected Waltham to the Financial District via Auburndale and West Newton before the pandemic, had been cut early in the crisis, but was restored by the MBTA last fall.

Under the MBTA’s proposal, part of the 505 would be re-routed away from the corner of Washington Street and Commonwealth Avenue.

Instead, the route would travel north of the Massachusetts Turnpike along River and Washington streets, and replace parts of the 553, 554, 556, and 558 Express Bus routes.

* The 553, 554, 556, and 558 Express Bus routes connected Waltham to the Financial District via Newton Corner before the pandemic. During the health crisis, they were scaled back and now end at Newton Corner.

Under the MBTA proposal, they would be replaced by a mix of new bus routes and the 505.

In their letter, city leaders criticized the proposed changes that would impact areas like Adams and Chapel streets; Crafts and Waltham streets; and Commonwealth Avenue and Washington Street.


“These are areas where transit service should be improved – not eliminated – with the only options available to walk longer distances and/or transfer between vehicles,” the letter said.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.