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.