T officials promise Chelsea service improvements

Commonwealth Magazine by Bruce Mohl

Agency to explore bus lanes, but fare reductions not considered

STATE TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS said on Monday they would explore ways to address delays on the MBTA’s third-busiest bus route, but they refused to even consider what many residents of Chelsea say they want – fare reductions.

What to do about the Route 111 bus that carries more than 12,000 passengers a day came to a head a week ago when Brian Lang, a director of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, demanded to know what the T was doing to address chronic delays that are likely to worsen as construction accelerates on bridges used by the bus. Lang said he was worried that the problems with Route 111 were not getting the agency’s attention because most of the riders are poor, working-class immigrants.

At Monday’s meeting of the control board, a number of Chelsea residents showed up to complain about the service and the refusal of T officials to listen to their concerns. The residents, most of them from an organization called GreenRoots, said the 111 buses are regularly overcrowded and often delayed. They acknowledged fare mitigation wouldn’t solve those problems, but they said lower fares would at least be an acknowledgment that Chelsea residents shouldn’t be treated like cattle.

“Why are we paying the exact same fares for the worst service in the state?” asked Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots.

The T unveiled what it called the Chelsea Plan in May to improve service on the 111 bus route and divert as many of its passengers as possible to alternative modes of transportation, including commuter rail, the Chelsea Silver Line service to South Station via the Seaport District, and buses linking to the Blue Line. The Chelsea Plan estimated travel times on the 111 route would be up to 45 minutes longer during the peak bridge construction period in July 2019 and 20 minutes longer at other times.

The 111 bus runs from Everett through Revere and into Chelsea, where it picks up most of its passengers. It continues over the Tobin Bridge into Charlestown and then into Haymarket in Boston via the North Washington Street Bridge. The Tobin Bridge is currently undergoing repairs and the North Washington Street Bridge is slated to be rebuilt over a five-year period. The 111 bus often runs late because of traffic congestion along the route. Its performance has also suffered in the past because the T frequently diverted 111 buses and drivers to plug holes in the schedule of other, less frequent routes.

T General Manager Luis Ramirez said he and other transit officials have been meeting with Chelsea officials to resolve the problems. “We are working hard to deliver a better service,” he said.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager, acknowledged the route has suffered from overcrowding and cancelled trips, but he said a number of operational changes and the addition of five bus drivers to the route have led to improvements. He said there were 280 canceled trips on the 111 route last year during the week of Labor Day; this year there were 26, he said.

Lang adopted a milder tone on Monday than he did a week ago, saying there is no “silver bullet” to address the problems with the 111 route. He urged the T and the control board to take the lead in forming a task force of all interested parties to address delays on the 111 bus and improve alternative ways of getting back and forth between Boston and Chelsea.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said her office would explore ways to ease the impact of the North Washington Street Bridge reconstruction and work with the Coast Guard to reduce delays caused by the raising and lowering of the Chelsea Street Bridge, which affects travel times on the Chelsea Silver Line and other buses connecting to the Blue Line.

Chris Dempsey, the director of Transportation for Massachusetts, urged the state Department of Transportation to address concerns about the 111 bus by testing a dedicated bus lane on the Tobin Bridge or imposing higher tolls at peak periods to reduce congestion.

Pollack said her agency would explore options with the Tobin Bridge, but she sounded skeptical that a dedicated bus lane would make much difference unless it was matched with a similar lane along the rest of the route. T officials said they would reach out to Chelsea officials to explore their receptivity.

T officials said they would form a task force, begin exploring possible service improvements, and report back to the control board in 60 days.

Asked her reaction, Bongiovanni of GreenRoots said: “Complete bullshit.”

That was her general reaction, but she was particularly incensed that Ramirez said he had been meeting with Chelsea officials. She said he had reached out to City Council President Damali Vidot on Monday morning.

Construction Causing Headaches For Chelsea Bus Riders

WBUR by Katie Lannan, State House News Service

Frustrated Chelsea commuters on Monday brought their concerns before state transportation officials, asking for relief on a bus route they said was plagued by delays and congestion.

Members of the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board, in turn, floated the idea of creating a task force to explore transportation needs in the city.

“Why are we paying the exact same fares for the worst service in the entire state, I ask you," said Roseann Bongiovanni, a former Chelsea City Council president who now heads the community organization GreenRoots.

Bongiovanni was one of several community members who addressed either the control board or the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board in their back-to-back meetings Monday about the 111 bus and other transit issues in Chelsea.

The 111 bus has the MBTA's third-highest ridership, serving 11,800 passengers per weekday, MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville said. It runs between Revere and Boston's Haymarket station, passing through Chelsea and crossing the Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River along the way.

A planned two-month closure of the off-ramp from the Tobin Bridge to Chelsea's Beacon Street for repair work began on Aug. 27, pushing the 111 onto a detour route. The shift creates a dynamic of "bus-stop roulette," with passengers and in some cases drivers unsure where the proper stop is, Paula Garrity told the Control Board.

"Chelsea depends on the 111," Garrity said.

Click here to read more.

What is the T’s Chelsea Plan?

Commonwealth Magazine by Bruce Mohl

City officials and FMCB’s Lang say it isn’t working

THE MBTA UNVEILED the “Chelsea Plan” in May to address lengthening commute times into Boston, but now the plan is coming under fire from a member of the Fiscal and Management Control Board who says it isn’t working.

At last Monday’s meeting of the control board, Brian Lang said the Route 111 bus, which carries about 12,000 passengers a day, is facing an “immediate crisis.” He demanded an accounting from T officials at this Monday’s meeting.

In a memo to Chelsea’s city manager in early May, T General Manager Luis Ramirez outlined what he called the Chelsea Plan to address ongoing issues with the commute between Chelsea and Boston and the prospect for more severe delays during a series of construction projects on the Tobin and North Washington Street Bridges.

Ramirez said the run time of the 111 bus could be up to 45 minutes longer during the peak construction period in July 2019.  “Outside of July 2019, the route could be up to 20 minutes longer than the current run times,” he said.

The 111 bus runs from Everett through Revere and Chelsea, over the Tobin Bridge, and to Haymarket in Boston via the North Washington Street Bridge. The buses are often crowded and regularly run late because of traffic congestion. The 111’s performance has also suffered in the past because the T frequently diverted its buses and drivers to plug holes in the schedule of other, less frequent routes.

The Chelsea Plan called for adding five drivers to the 111 route to eliminate cancellations and easing congestion on the bus by diverting passengers to the Silver Line, the 116 and 117 buses that connect to the Blue Line at Maverick Station, and to commuter rail at Chelsea Station.

Ramirez said T research indicates 59 percent of the Route 111 riders are within a five-minute walk of the 116 or 117 bus. The research also shows 40 percent of Route 111 trips start or end within a quarter mile of Chelsea Station or North Station.

To encourage more Chelsea residents to take commuter rail, the T said it wouldn’t charge them if they had a Charlie Card. Damali Vidot, president of the Chelsea City Council, told CommonWealth last week that many of the conductors were never informed of the arrangement and nothing came of it. “It’s been a mess,” she said.

On Friday, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the transit agency had alerted conductors again to the Chelsea Plan’s terms.

“It has been brought to the T’s attention that some commuter rail conductors were not aware of the directive issued in the spring, so we spoke with Keolis and the attached directive was re-issued this week,” Pesaturo said in an email. “The MBTA apologizes to any customers who were told their Charlie Cards were not valid for a trip to North Station.”

Chelsea transportation issues to top agenda for MBTA oversight board

Curbed Boston by Tom Acitelli

The 111 bus from Revere to Haymarket is a particular concern—how to speed up the notoriously crowded route.

The glacial pace and the frequent overcrowding (and cancellations) of the No. 111 bus from Revere to Haymarket will top the agenda of the MBTA’s oversight committee when it meets next week.

In particular, the impact of the bus route’s woes on commuters from Chelsea will be front and center as planned bridge construction threatens to slow even further what’s already the third most popular MBTA bus route.

The debate over the 111 also highlights what is sometimes called transportation equity as Chelsea residents endure a lot more than MBTA riders from more affluent areas in trying to get to downtown Boston via the 111.

“We’re talking to people who work and get paid on an hourly basis, and when they get to work late they lose income,” MBTA oversight board member Brian Lang told the Globe’s Adam Vaccaro. “And if they’re late enough they may lose their jobs.”

To accentuate the point about transportation equity, Lang cited a recent board decision to table a proposal to install new WiFi towers along commuter rail routes because of concerns from suburban property owners.

Meanwhile, the MBTA says it is already trying to speed up the 111 and alleviate overcrowding through adjusted bus-dispatching policies.

MBTA official wants changes to troubled Chelsea bus route

The Boston Globe by Adam Vaccaro

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.

Lang accuses T of ignoring Chelsea concerns

Commonwealth by Bruce Mohl

Control board member says 111 bus delays need fixing

ONE MEMBER OF THE MBTA’S Fiscal and Management Control Board demanded on Monday that the agency explain how it’s going to address chronic delays of a heavily used bus route connecting Chelsea  and downtown Boston.

Brian Lang asked for a presentation at the control board’s September 17 meeting, saying he was concerned that residents of Chelsea were being ignored by the MBTA because they are working-class immigrants.

“I’m concerned we’re not hopping to it the way we hop to it with concerns raised by other communities,” Lang said, noting how the control board quickly canceled a commuter rail WiFi contract last year when Andover residents complained that unsightly cell phone towers along the tracks were a blight on their community.

“With a community of working-class immigrants, we don’t do that,” Lang said, noting that Chelsea residents cannot afford to skip a day of work to voice their concerns at a control board meeting.

Lang is president of UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents hotel and food service workers, some of whom live in Chelsea.

The 111 bus carries about 12,000 passengers a day as it lumbers from Everett through Revere and Chelsea, over the Tobin Bridge, and into Boston via the North Washington Street Bridge. The buses are often crowded and usually run late, partly because of heavy congestion along the route and detours caused by bridge and road repairs. The 111’s performance has also suffered because the T has frequently taken buses and drivers away from the route to plug holes in the schedule of other, less frequent routes.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the T, said five new bus drivers are being added to the 111 route, which should help reduce cancellations and improve service.

Lang didn’t sound satisfied. “This issue to me goes beyond this little fix, that little fix,” he said. “There’s an immediate crisis around the 111. I want the 111 issue addressed quickly – not months, not years. People’s livelihoods are at stake.”

Thomas Ambrosino, the city manager in Chelsea, said complaints about the 111 bus are constant and relentless in his community. “If this were to happen in Newton or Wellesley, I certainly believe the problem would have gotten more attention,” he said.

Damali Vidot, the president of the Chelsea City Council, agreed. “If we were Andover, this would not be happening,” she said.

Vidot said T officials don’t respond to phone calls and emails from Chelsea residents. She said the T’s Better Bus Project arranged a last-minute meeting late in August with Chelsea residents. “The community just ripped them a new one,” she said.

A solution to the 111’s problems won’t be easy. Adding more bus drivers will help reduce trip cancellations, but congestion is unlikely to ease any time soon with repair work on the Tobin and the North Washington Street Bridges. The North Washington Street Bridge is being designed with a bus-only lane, but the work won’t be completed until 2023.  Some passengers on the 111 bus have opted for the  Silver Line bus running from Chelsea to South Station, but Ambrosino said the fare is higher and many residents aren’t headed to the Seaport District.

Vidot said some in the community have been pressing the T for fare relief because of the chronic delays, but officials have shown no interest. She said community officials were also told by MBTA officials that residents could ride the commuter rail into Boston and pay no additional fee as long as they had a Charlie Card. But Vidot said commuter rail conductors were never informed of the arrangement, and nothing came of it.

“It’s been a mess,” she said.


The Argument - Has MBTA service seen much improvement under Governor Charles Baker?

The Boston Globe by John Laidler

Read two views and vote in our informal online poll.

YES

Richard A. Dimino

Brookline resident; President and CEO, A Better City; former Boston Commissioner of Transportation

Thousands of daily commuters and the region’s economy depend on the MBTA to perform. The system faces major challenges stemming from policies implemented over the last 20 years, but the MBTA of today is improving — with credit due to the Baker Administration’s and Legislature’s 2015 vision in creating the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board. Through the board’s oversight and leadership, the MBTA is now better positioned for long-term success than at any point in recent memory. The key will be building on these efforts to do even more.

The MBTA’s physical infrastructure was neglected and underfunded for decades. Riders still face daily frustrations with the system and progress can feel slow. Nonetheless, the MBTA’s list of accomplishments over the last three years should give riders and other stakeholders confidence that the agency is worthy of increased public investment and ongoing support.

The MBTA is better managing its budget, controlling overtime costs, limiting absenteeism, and successfully reaching common ground with employees through new labor agreements.

The Control Board revised the Green Line Extension project to reduce and stabilize its cost while providing access to a new corridor of sustainable development and transit service. The MBTA has shown a new openness to innovative thinking, partnering with Uber and Lyft to deliver para-transit service. Finally, the MBTA is more transparent than ever, with its spending plans and long-term strategic plan now online for public review.

It will take the MBTA many years to address its $7.3 billion-plus repair backlog and deliver the new vehicles, transit signals, tracks, buses, and technology needed to ensure truly reliable and efficient service. These core improvements are critical. Additionally, the MBTA still needs to implement planned capacity improvements. And it needs a comprehensive finance plan that puts the MBTA in more high-growth areas to unlock new economic development, promote equity, relieve congestion, and reduce greenhouse gases..

The MBTA is more than a transit agency; it is an economic development and opportunity provider. We still have a long way to go to meet the needs of our residents, workers, economy, mobility, and environment, but over the last three years the MBTA has been put on the right track.

NO

Maria Belen Power

Chelsea resident; Associate Executive Director of Green Roots, an organization that works for environmental justice in Chelsea and surrounding communities

From the perspective of transit-dependent riders, the MBTA continues to fail. My community’s experience is representative.

Chelsea is one of the state’s most densely-populated cities, and the voice of our riders is important.

Through its push to privatize the MBTA, continued inadequate service, and lack of genuine and constructive engagement with riders, the MBTA continues to neglect communities that rely on it.

Expanded public transit should be celebrated. At face value, the Silver Line bus service extension into Chelsea is positive. But there’s a downside. This kind of investment can cause housing prices to rise, forcing low-income people to relocate to less transit-connected communities. A better approach would be to improve existing bus service vital to so many working people.

Transit-dependent residents have few choices. They lose their jobs if they arrive late for work, and cannot afford to take a rideshare or taxi when the bus does not show. As service industry workers, they can’t just telecommute.

Responding to the needs of these riders while we build the next transit generation should be the priority; instead, we see a gradual erosion of service on some of the most utilized bus lines serving low-income communities and people of color.

The 111 bus — the third busiest MBTA line — has among the highest rates of dropped trips. And now there are three major MassDOT roadway bridge projects planned or underway in Chelsea that will significantly impact service, increasing a lengthy commute by 150 percent during peak construction, based on MBTA information. The MBTA’s General Manager advice to “seek alternative modes of travel, including walking and biking” shows a lack of awareness and respect towards those whose lives are most impacted. When low-income and vulnerable communities receive some of the worst service, that should be cause for outrage.

Finally, the Governor’s push for MBTA privatization is the wrong approach. Touted inaccurately as a sure way to save money, privatization is a profit-making opportunity for corporations who can then cut corners, provide poor service, and pass on the bill to taxpayers.

Our communities need deep investment in public transportation that can provide reliable service while also ensuring fair wage union jobs for our families and friends.