The MBTA’s oversight board is slated to review transit issues in Chelsea next week, as a major bus route that connects the city of 40,000 to downtown Boston struggles with traffic, crowding, and cancellations.
The 111 bus — the third most popular route in the bus network system — was already a hassle for riders. But with planned bridge construction projects expected to slow things down even more, MBTA board member Brian Lang said Monday that passengers who depend on the bus deserve better.
“We’re talking to people who work and get paid on an hourly basis, and when they get to work late they lose income,” Lang said. “And if they’re late enough they may lose their jobs.”
Lang criticized the agency for seeming to take the complaints of wealthier riders more seriously than those lodged by working-class passengers. He cited the board’s decision to table a plan to install new Wi-Fi towers along the commuter rail amid an outcry from suburban property owners — many of whom don’t even ride the train.
“When people from Andover come in here because there’s some Wi-Fi towers, we jump to it,” he said. “When a community of working-class immigrants starts yelling, we don’t do that.”
Lang represents low-income service workers in his day job as president of the Unite Here Local 26 labor union. He has said Governor Charlie Baker appointed him to the oversight board because Lang “knew more people that were dependent on the T than anyone else [Baker] knew.”
MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville said the MBTA has assigned five new drivers to the 111 and adjusted bus dispatching policies to limit cancellations and delays. The 111 runs frequently when service operates as scheduled, with rush-hour buses departing every few minutes between Revere and Haymarket stations.
But Lang said those appear to be partial solutions and called for other strategies to improve service during the bridge projects. Advocates have lobbied for fare discounts on the 111 and other buses that operate in Chelsea during the bridge projects. The work includes repairs on the Tobin Bridge and the five-year replacement of the North Washington Street Bridge between Charlestown and downtown Boston.
Board chairman Joseph Aiello said the MBTA should also discuss how the new Silver Line and commuter rail routes through the city could play a role in mitigating Chelsea’s transit problems.
The MBTA has already offered riders one concession — allowing them to board the commuter rail at the height of the bridge work using their CharlieCards. The T clarified Wednesday these riders would only need to pay the price of a bus fare. But advocates argue the commuter rail is still a poor substitute, as it runs less frequently and stops in only one location in Chelsea, while the 111 bus stops in several locations.