With just 10 days left before the MBTA’s second most popular subway line closes for a month, riders don’t yet know for sure how they’re supposed to navigate their way from here to there and back again without the Orange Line.
Officials from the MBTA and city of Boston this week were still scrambling to finalize shuttle bus routes that will replace Orange Line service from the evening of Aug. 19 to the morning of Sept. 19 so what could be hundreds of thousands of riders can have a definitive plan for how to get to work, school, and back home.
Orange Line riders were given contradictory information by the T Tuesday about what they can expect during the shutdown.
Fliers posted at Orange Line stations as of Tuesday afternoon and the agency’s website featured conflicting routes for shuttle buses that will replace train service.
After Globe inquiries, the website was changed, but T spokesperson Lisa Battiston declined to say whether the information posted at stations was final.
Fliers indicated the T plans to run shuttle bus service between the line’s southern terminus, Forest Hills, and Back Bay, where riders can connect to the Green Line at Copley; and between the line’s northern terminus, Oak Grove, and Government Center, where riders can connect to the Green Line.
The fliers indicated that the shuttle buses will not stop at State Street, Downtown Crossing, Chinatown, or Tufts Medical Center stations, which are served by Silver Line buses or the Blue or Red lines. The fliers also included Green Line stations that will be closed for portions of the Orange Line shutdown.
Battiston said the T is recommending the commuter rail, which will make extra stops and allow CharlieCard or MBTA pass holders to ride from Zone 1, 1A, and 2 stations, as the best option for Orange Line riders to get to downtown Boston. General Manager Steve Poftak said last week the T does not plan to increase service on its bus lines or other subway lines.
Last week, the T announced the monthlong shutdown of an entire rapid transit line with just over two weeks’ notice, spurring an all-hands-on-deck response from T and municipal officials, some of whom said they have been left in the dark.
Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said the MBTA has canceled several calls with the city since last Wednesday to discuss the details of the shutdown.
“To say we’re frustrated is putting it lightly,” she said Monday. “I was hopeful we could ask questions and really understand the T’s plan. . . . It’s such short notice that it’s hard to grasp.”
The MBTA said it will be using the Orange Line shutdown to make much needed track repairs and updates ordered by the Federal Transit Administration, which is currently investigating safety lapses at the agency.
“The MBTA continues to finalize all of its plans for the best and most efficient transportation alternatives for riders with its municipal partners, and meetings with cities and towns along the diversion route are being scheduled this week,” Battiston said via e-mail Tuesday.
The city of Boston is working on creating as many dedicated bus lanes as possible to accommodate the routes, chief of streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge said on Twitter Monday. Franklin-Hodge said the city has rounded up more than 1,000 traffic cones, hundreds of plastic lane dividers known as flex posts, and LED message boards to deploy if needed. The city also is working on finding funding to offer free or reduced passes on the Bluebikes system, he said.
Meanwhile, some advocates are urging the T to amend its plans altogether to avoid a full shutdown during the crucial post-Labor Day back-to-school weeks when students and educators return to commuting. In a letter to Governor Charlie Baker Monday, president of the business group A Better City Rick Dimino urged the T to consider restoring weekday service on the Orange Line on Sept. 6 and switching to weekend work through Oct. 22.
Also supporting that proposal were former Massachusetts transportation secretary Jim Aloisi; Jim Tierney, New England market director for JLL, a global commercial real estate firm, and chairman of the A Better City board; and TransitMatters executive director Jarred Johnson.
“Planning and execution of a transit disruption of this scale and duration should be undertaken in a way that maximizes repair efforts and minimizes burdens on transit riders and others,” Aloisi said in a statement.
Restoring Orange Line service by Labor Day is even more important, the advocates said, after the T announced Friday that it will be shutting down a portion of the Green Line — including the newly opened extension to Union Square — for four weeks on Aug. 22. It also announced it will be delaying the opening of the Medford branch line until late November. The Green Line’s E branch is shut down between Heath Street and Copley stations through Aug. 21.
The T flier posted in Orange Line stations Tuesday does not mention the Green Line shutdowns.
The T has emphasized the time-saving benefits of a long-term Orange Line closure, eliminating the need to repeatedly set up and take down construction equipment.
Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President Jim Rooney said he is still waiting on information from the T about shuttle bus service so that he can provide it to his members to share with thousands of employees. So far he has encouraged companies to allow for flexibility with commutes.
“The closer to the date of the shutdown it gets, the more likelihood of chaos there is,” he said Tuesday. “People don’t know what they’re doing on day one.”
Lungo-Koehn, the Medford mayor, has been trying to get her city ready, given that both the Orange Line and the second Green Line Extension branch run through Medford. But the lack of communication with the T has been hard, she said Monday.
One of the main roads connecting Assembly and Wellington stations is owned by MassDOT, Lungo-Koehn said, meaning that state agency will need to coordinate bus-only lanes with the T.
Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne said Monday she was still waiting on information from the T and trying to anticipate possible traffic issues.
“Public transit is not a luxury, it’s a lifeline to school, health care, basic needs,” she said. “They need frequent and reliable alternative service during this shutdown and no less.”
MBTA riders already are enduring longer wait times for trains after the T cut service by more than 20 percent on the Orange, Red, and Blue lines in June to comply with an FTA safety directive that found the T’s operations control center was dangerously understaffed. The T cut bus service in December by around 3 percent and still hasn’t restored it due to a driver shortage.
The federal government is on the precipice of releasing what’s expected to be a scathing report about safety failures at the T that may demand more disruptions. The state Legislature’s committee on transportation has committed to hold more oversight hearings once the report is released.
The next governor will inherit a T in crisis when he or she takes over in January.
Gubernatorial front-runner Maura Healey, a Democrat, said the T must fix its safety problems, including by urgently staffing up and training more workers.
“We can’t have a functioning economy without a functioning T,” the attorney general said in a statement. “They also need to support riders during the shut downs by offering alternative transportation options at free or reduced costs and launching a multilingual awareness campaign.”
A spokesperson for Republican candidate Geoff Diehl referred the Globe to prior statements about the T which called the Orange Line shutdown “disappointing” and “unacceptable.”
Republican candidate Chris Doughty said the T should hire maintenance workers from transit agencies across the country on an emergency basis and called the 30-day shutdown “excessive.”
“When natural disasters happen anywhere in the country, trained workers all over the country mobilize to assist the impacted area,” he said in a statement. “That’s what should happen here.”