The MBTA heard your feedback about its new bus map — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and is back with a second draft.
The latest version, published Thursday, reflects more than 20,000 public comments the agency received since releasing its initial plans for a redesigned bus network in May. The new map will increase bus service across the system by 25 percent from before the pandemic, Melissa Dullea, senior director of service planning, said at a news briefing.
The overhaul is years in the making and part of the transit agency’s larger goal of improving and electrifying bus service by building new electric bus facilities and bus-only lanes. If the MBTA’s board of directors approves the new map in December, it will be implemented over the next five years, said project manager Doug Johnson.
In response to the public feedback, Johnson said the MBTA changed 85 of 133 initially proposed bus routes, in some cases adding or altering routes to provide more service to medical facilities and senior housing. For example, the new map will not change the Route 39 bus, which runs between Forest Hills and Back Bay stations, or the 201 and 202, which run between Fields Corner and Keystone Apartments in Dorchester.
“We weren’t able to make every single change that was requested,” Johnson said. “But we did our best to respond to all the feedback that we got from the public and from municipalities and elected officials, and really do our best to improve this network based on that feedback.”
The MBTA now has 15 “key routes” that aim to have buses arrive every 20 minutes or less, Dullea said. The new network will feature 30 routes that have buses show up every 15 minutes or less, she said.
A full list of differences between the MBTA’s May proposal and the latest version are available on the agency’s website.
The finalization of the new network comes as the agency continues to cut bus service because it is short hundreds of drivers. Since December, the MBTA has repeatedly reduced bus frequency, most recently at the end of August, resulting in a 9 percent reduction in weekly scheduled trips since the pandemic began. Even with that reduction, the T was unable to run about 2.2 percent of those trips in the past month, according to agency spokesperson Joe Pesaturo.
To meet the service requirements of the new bus network, the MBTA needs an additional 750 drivers, Dullea said.
Nearly 300,000 people rode MBTA buses during the week of Oct. 17, the most recent ridership data available from the state Department of Transportation. That’s about 70 percent of ridership during a similar week in October 2019. The bus has regained more pre-pandemic ridership than subway, commuter rail, or ferry.
The bus with the highest ridership is the 28 bus, according to state data, which has been free to ride since Boston began reimbursing the MBTA for fare revenue last August. In March, Mayor Michelle Wu began a two-year pilot program to eliminate fares on the 23 and 29 buses as well, using money the city had received in pandemic relief aid to reimburse the MBTA.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak told the MBTA’s board of directors he expects operating the expanded bus network will cost more than $425 million over the next six years, ranging from $20.4 million this fiscal year to $118.9 million in fiscal year 2028. Those costs do not include building new bus stops, changing traffic signals, and redesigning streets in some cases.
“We must understand how we can indeed afford this,” said Betsy Taylor, chair of the MBTA board. “This is a wonderful proposal. To make it real we need to be able to afford both the operating and the capital cost.”
The MBTA will hold a public meeting about the second draft of the bus network on Nov. 2, followed by a final vote by the board of directors in December. Bus riders could start to see changes to their routes as soon as next summer, Johnson said.
Taylor Dolven can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.