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Underserved in transit, Mattapan wants a lift

Mattapan’s only mass-transit options are a slow trolley to Ashmont Station and glacial-paced buses.
Mattapan’s only mass-transit options are a slow trolley to Ashmont Station and glacial-paced buses.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The city bus hissed, then stopped in front of a dollar store in Mattapan Square, where a mid-morning crowd clambered aboard for destinations across Boston.

For the passengers, the Route 28 bus is part of the daily grind that comes with living in Mattapan, a community of 24,000 at the southern tip of Boston. The bus has become a slow-moving symbol of the lack of easy access to the rest of the city.

In many parts of Boston, residents have the quick option of walking to stations with fast-moving trains. In Mattapan, the only mass- transit options are a slow trolley connecting to Ashmont Station and glacial-paced buses.


“It’s not quick,’’ said Robert Jenkins, a longtime Mattapan resident and advocate, of the trolley. “It doesn’t run regularly, and it gets worse on the weekend.”

A crosstown trek from Mattapan can last more than 40 minutes on buses such as Route 28, which connects to the better-paying jobs in the Longwood Medical Area.

“It takes too long,’’ Uret Nelson grumbled before she boarded. “We need a quicker bus.”

Such concerns are being considered in a new city calculus called Go Boston 2030, which aims to reimagine the future of transportation in Boston. Since the fall, officials have been collecting residents’ transportation policy and projects ideas. Those ideas will be folded into a comprehensive plan and implemented over the next five, 10, and 15 years, said Boston transportation officials, who are teaming with the state on the initiative.

Given the current fiscal woes of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, it’s unclear how much financial help the T will provide for upgraded systems to Mattapan or other neighborhoods in Dorchester and Roxbury that have few mass transit options. Spokesman Joseph Pesaturo said no funds are allocated for such a project in the agency’s recently approved five-year capital investment program.


But city officials said at this stage in the planning, they are less concerned about cost and are instead aiming to chart what the city eventually needs to best move people around. One focus, those officials say, is bringing faster transit services to these low-income areas.

“You still have folks in the heart of the African-American community without a major transportation hub. . . and that needs to be discussed,’’ said State Representative Russell Holmes, who is cochairman of the Go Boston 2030 committee.

Mattapan is a diverse neighborhood of committed homeowners, tree-lined streets, quiet trails, and scenic nooks. But it is also a community with a struggling economic center. It does not have a single restaurant with wine or alcohol on the menu, and it is pocked with areas hit hard by violence.

The neighborhood has been striving to overcome such obstacles, working to build civic activism and pride. Soon city crews will plan trees on the square and broaden the sidewalks. Officials also are working to boost businesses.

Holmes said he welcomes progress in Mattapan, where he lives. Mattapan is set for a new stop on the Fairmount commuter rail line at Woodhaven Street that Holmes said would bolster development nearby and improve the community.

It’s time to figure out how to expand such faster transit options, such as quicker buses in designated lanes free of other vehicles, he added.

Officials are considering ways to bring faster transit services to low-income areas of the Mattapan section of Boston.
Officials are considering ways to bring faster transit services to low-income areas of the Mattapan section of Boston. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Historically, he said, residents in more affluent neighborhoods were given more and better options for public transit. Now, Holmes said, additional resources should be devoted to Mattapan and other underserved communities.


Mattapan buses transport 26,000 people to their destinations each weekday, according to MBTA data.

As part of its outreach to the public, the city asked commuters in a monthlong online survey whether they might prefer other options: What about a streetcar or quicker bus transit from Mattapan to Longwood Medical Area or a streetcar to Dudley Square? Or smart-signal corridors on Blue Hill Avenue and other major thoroughfares such as Morton Street?

Faster bus service would curb delays by allowing passengers to pay before they board, and may include building a designated middle lane from Mattapan to Ruggles Station, officials said.

But those details — along with the costs — have yet to be ironed out.

Gina Fiandaca, Boston’s transportation department commissioner, said one of the guiding principles of the initiative is to bring equity to disadvantaged neighborhoods and correct transportation infrastructure gaps in these areas.

“It’s clearly emerged to us that Mattapan is one of our underserved neighborhoods and a key initiative in the transportation department is to work on improving mobility access for residents of Mattapan to other parts of the city,’’ Fiandaca said.

More than 3,800 Boston residents responded to the survey on Go Boston 2030 website, including 28 from people with the Mattapan ZIP code of 02126, transportation officials said.

The small number of responses is indicative of the disconnect between Mattapan and the city, long criticized for poor outreach to its low-income communities, Jenkins, the Mattapan advocate, said. But transportation officials have said they actively solicited community input throughout the process.


“Traditionally, Mattapan residents don’t go to those meetings,’’ said Jenkins, who was not aware of the survey.

More than 500 of the online responses were in favor of the streetcar/bus rapid transit option from Mattapan to the Longwood Medical Area. And more than 1,500 people supported smart traffic signal corridors.

The responses will be incorporated in the city action plan that will be released this fall.

Until then, the residents of Mattapan will continue to wait.

There are few speedy transportation options for Mattapan residents trying to get to other parts of the city.
There are few speedy transportation options for Mattapan residents trying to get to other parts of the city.Aditi Bhandari/Globe Staff

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.