Five seconds might not sound like a lot, but MBTA officials say it is a measurable sign of progress.
Buses on the Silver Line shaved five seconds off each stop, on average, during a two-week experiment that allowed passengers to board through all three doors rather than just the front entrance.
The test was underwritten by the nonprofit Barr Foundation, which paid for all passenger fares during the period, to allow the MBTA to see what boarding would be like when customers did not have to use cash and could board through any door. The test was conducted in late spring, on the portion of the Silver Line that runs through Roxbury and the South End and has 13 stops.
As a result of the quicker boarding, buses stopped at each station, on average, for 19 seconds, as opposed to the usual average of 24 seconds. At the most crowded stations and during the busiest periods, buses left 13 seconds faster than normal — 35 seconds rather than 48.
The results are modest, but MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville said they matter.
“In the world we live in of schedules, where seconds count, that adds up over time,” Gonneville said. “We saw there was a reliability improvement.”
The Barr study serves as a warmup of sorts to the MBTA’s plan to eliminate cash payments for all buses fares in 2020. New fare technology will require passengers to use either a CharlieCard, mobile payment account, or credit card. It will also allow passengers to pay on the rear door of buses.
San Francisco’s bus system has often been cited as a model. It put all-door boarding in place in 2012. In a 2014 report, the city’s transit agency said this had a limited impact on bus speed: buses were only 2 percent faster as a result. But passengers were able to get off buses more quickly, and buses were more consistently on time at each stop.
The Silver Line saw a small uptick in on-time performance during the test: 83 percent, compared to 81 percent in the prior three weeks. The Silver Line, which has a dedicated bus lane on part of the route, is already one of the T’s highest-performing bus routes.
Buses are the second most popular transit mode on the T, but trail the subway and commuter rail systems for reliability. The Barr Foundation is expected to award grants this fall to other cities and towns to fund other tests to improve bus service, such as installing more bus-only lanes on certain routes.
Coming to a computer screen near you
It’s about to get easier to see how the sausage is made at the T.
The agency’s oversight board voted on Monday to begin live-streaming its meetings, and to store recordings online so riders can catch up in the following days and weeks.
The meetings usually occur at least three times a month and stretch for hours. They typically take place on Monday afternoons in downtown Boston, when many people can’t get away from work.
Some board members have been pushing for months to begin broadcasting their meetings, to become more visible to the public. Remarkably, the board’s meeting room was already equipped with two cameras that cost $175,000 to install, yet the meetings have not been recorded.
Owen Kane, an attorney for the T, told the board that he would have preferred not to stream the meetings. He said it could cost thousands of dollars to staff and store each meeting, and to make sure the recordings adhere to public record laws.
The work could cost more than $150,000 a year because the T’s board meets several times a month, he said, citing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s experience in broadcasting its meetings.
But board members pushed forward anyway, voting for a six-month pilot and capping costs at $100,000 on an annual basis.
T officials are not yet sure when the streaming will start. Ten more board meetings are scheduled before the end of the year.