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MassDOT OK’s $75m for buses by ’18

In a win for public transit advocates, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s board of directors voted Wednesday to approve a capital investment plan that dedicates $75 million to buy new buses by 2018.

Bus riders and transit activists were upset last month that the agency’s five-year investment plan — which allocates money for new Red and Orange line trains, the extensions of the Green Line and the Silver Line, train service to Cape Cod and the South Coast, and a slew of highway projects — failed to contribute a single dollar for new buses, though the region’s fleet of buses carry more than 375,000 people daily.

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“What really shocked me was not a reduction, but a complete absence of funding for the MBTA bus system,” said Stuart Spina of the T Riders Union at a public hearing last month.

In a Jan. 29 letter to MassDOT, Rafael Mares, staff attorney at the transit advocacy organization Conservation Law Foundation, pointed out that 85 percent of the system’s roughly 1,100 buses will be more than 12 years old by 2019. The T’s goal is to maintain the average age of buses at 7.5 years old, and Mares argued that MassDOT’s decision to punt the purchase of replacement buses would disproportionately affect people who are not served by the subway and commuter rail systems, especially people of color.

“Failing to replace any of these buses for the next five-plus years would not be sustainable, run counter to the state’s climate change goals, and would be a clear setback to transit justice,” Mares wrote.

Apparently, MassDOT officials listened.

The new version of the capital investment plan promises to provide $75 million in fiscal year 2018, to be followed by another $75 million the next year.

“This change is in direct response to public comments made over the past month,” wrote Thom Dugan, the agency’s deputy chief financial officer, in his notes to the MassDOT board.

Additionally, T officials say they have budgeted $205 million, primarily from federal grants and bonds, to purchase more buses by the end of 2019. It’s not certain how many buses that combined $355 million will buy — it depends on the size of the buses purchased and fuel type — but that sum could pay for up to 700 new vehicles.

“We’re pretty confident that will bring us back in line to the 7.5-year average lifespan,” said Jonathan R. Davis, the T’s chief financial officer.

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com.
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