Some Quick Easy Fixes

Well, it looks like the doomsday threats are coming back, and this time on top of the threats of killing weekend commuter rail are the threats of ending all bus service after 11:00 PM and cutting 30 bus routes. Here are some simple fixes that the MBTA should consider.

1: MassDOT merged everyone together into a bickering blended family. They should own up to their Big Dig debt.
As much as the crowd outside of 495 will claim that they should not pay for the debt of the Big Dig because it’s solely inside Boston, truth is that it is a utility for the entire Commonwealth and beyond. The Big Dig benefits just as much benefits those from Salisbury to Sheffield to Sandwich as it does for those in Southie and Somerville with improved vehicular capacity through town, improved access to Logan, and more.  When the Commonwealth merged everyone under the MassDOT umbrella, they should have demerged the Big Dig debt which the Cellucci Administration forced upon the MBTA for something they really did not contribute to. One umbrella, one debt.

2: Merge some lesser bus routes into singular routes.
Several years back when the Port Authority in Pittsburgh had their own Doomsday cuts, they ended up merging several routes which shared a common terminal into singular routes to help boost efficiency and maintain as much service as possible. I was going to suggest these in a proposal post but here are a few which could be done.

  • Merging the 62 and 76 full-time as the current 62/76 operates on Saturdays.
  • Combining either the 70 or 70A with the 91, running straight through Central between Waltham and Sullivan.
  • At least on middays and weekends, merging the 108 with the local portion of the 426 (which would help West Lynn, East Saugus, and northeastern Revere as the Blue Line will  soon be an eunuch).
  • The 354 is extended over the local portion of the 352 after rush hours. As much as it’d be bad for Burlington commuters outside of 95/128, making this the core route would not be  bad thing.
  • Merge the 131 and the northern/eastern portion of the 430 while terminating the 430 at Square One Mall. This would not only add an elusive bus connection between Saugus and Melrose, but would also redirect the 430’s resources where it’s needed.

(Everyone, join in and leave your suggestions in the comments!)

3: Make pass prices resemble something resembling reality.
Right now a weekly pass ($18) is only 1.6 times the cost of a one-day pass ($11) and is equal to nine rail rides paid via CharlieCard. I understand the one-day pass is a bit of a tourist tax but seriously the weekly pass could be raised to around $24 and still be seen as a bargain. Similarly, $70 for a monthly pass is still quite low compared to the MBTA’s peer agencies and could be hiked beyond $80 and still be seen as a bargain.

4: Charge for CharlieCards (and maybe CharlieTickets too)
When I was living in and around DC,the initial cost for a SmarTrip was (as is now) $5. In contrast, the CharlieCard is free. I’m not saying to emulate WMATA – nobody ever should – but even if the MBTA charged as little as $2 for a CharlieCard it’d make some money. Imagine how much they could’ve made over the last eight years off of CharlieCards for a nominal fee.
Similarly, the MTA in New York is now charging $1 for a new MetroCard. I think even a 50 cent surcharge on getting a new CharlieTicket would raise some extra funds and would show those that use them that getting a CharlieCard would be a good move to make.

5: One More Quarter
Compared to peer agencies, even with last year’s fare increases CharlieCard fares are still cheap at $1.50 for bus and $2.00 for rail. Hiking these by a quarter while leaving the $2.00/$2.50 cash fare as-is would still have the MBTA on the low end of their peer agencies. Ideally, going to one united fare would be good but the insistence of having bus be cheaper than rail would need to be put on the back burner.

6: Peak hour MBCR surcharges
Being from the New York area, I’m used to the concept of a peak-hour surcharge on both Metro North and the LIRR, charging a higher fare going into Penn/Grand Central in the morning and out in the evening. I know the MBCR lines don’t have the intensive levels of service that their New York counterparts have, but a surcharge of a couple of dollars for trains during rush hour would help raise some extra money from suburbanites. There are some problems with this, namely if the Zone 1A and Fairmount Line stations should be made exempt or not, but it’s worth the thought.

7: Take one for the team, Local 589
With service cuts come the inevitable complaints about unionized labor and all the negative stereotypes of unions and the “typical” unionized employee. While Local 589 doesn’t have the overtime abuse problems of TWU 100 and the other MTA unions or the mass corruption at ATU 689 at WMATA, I think that it might be a good PR move for Local 589 to make some concessions to help protect their jobs. Given the choice between voluntarily taking a pay rollback of a couple of percent and having jobs flat-out eliminated, I’d be willing to take that most Local 589 members would seriously consider the former. Such a move would be a sign of solidarity and would send a good message to a union-cynical public in a time when unions need the good PR.

I have one other bigger idea I’ll share in another post, but these would be better than getting rid of all weekend Commuter Rail service or ending bus service a good two hours before subway service. Then again, doomsday is doomsday and often doomsday never comes.




554 (Waverley Sq-Downtown Boston EXPRESS)

Summer is ending. Kids are going back to school and the B branch will be a mess full of college students. And I’m at the moment slated to take two sets of two six-week courses for grad school while looking for an job and an apartment of our own. As a result, I’m taking a small break from heavy riding to focus on rerailing my life. That said, I needed a way to go out with a fun review.

That said, one ride on the 73 (review coming soon!) got me to Waverly Square in Belmont, adoptive home of a former Massachusetts Governor who may or may not become 45th President of the United States. This review isn’t about the 73 or the nearby Fitchburg Line station: It’s about the 554. Yes, it’s time for more Inner Express Fun!

The 554 begins at Waverly Square and works its way down Lexington Street to the Belmont/Watertown Line to Belmont Street going through a largely residental area. Crossing into Waltham, it crosses over the Fitchburg Line where you can look left and see the very station you just left. Transitioning onto Beaver Street it passes by the Girl Scouts’ Camp Cedar Hill and the Bentley University campus and most of its athletic facilities.

Eventually, the 554 turns onto the desirable Moody Street corridor, north of the Charles running with the more frequent 70A and running by a bunch of small businesses. After looping through Central Square and passing by Waltham Commuter Rail, it crosses the Charles and continues through the trendier part of Moody Street with its express sister, the 553 which terminates at Brandeis/Roberts. Shortly after crossing into Newton, it turns onto River Street which itself turns into Elm Street.

At the corner of Elm and Washington, passing by the interestingly named Keltic Krust and West Newton station, the 554 begins to run on Washington Street. Which parallels the Framingham/Worcester Line. Which itself parallels the MassPike. Sitting on the right side of a bus will give an interesting viewpoint especially if a train is passing. Like most 500-series routes, the last stop before the Pike is Newton Corner and its roundabout loop to get to or from the highway. After that it’s the usual 500-series sights (see the 504, but in reverse) before getting off at Exit 24 and hitting three downtown stops before the last stop in the Financial District, however on this ride all 12 passengers got off at the first stop, two blocks from Chinatown and South Station. In inauspicious ride to an route rarely traveled.

Route: 554 (Waverley Sq-Downtown Boston EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 6

Ridership: The 12 passengers above was the maximum amount for a mid-afternoon run. Of the four passengers who got on at Waverley, three lasted towards the end with a few others getting on around Bentley and the rest along Moody Street. Given the time of day and the competition – 73 to Red Line takes less time, is more frequent, and cheaper – this is understandable since it exists more as a Belmont/Waltham connection first then as an express.

Pros: It serves as an intersuburban connection that happens to go into town. The Washington Street part of the route is also interesting especially after having seen it from the Pike many times.

Cons: The 554’s weekend service (Saturdays only to Newton Corner) was a victim of the recent service cuts. If you’re not a Bentley student, this is a downside even though under 200 riders on average were affected as of 2010. That and it’s semi-pointless to ride the 554 the entire way unless a single-seat ride is a must.

Nearby and Noteworthy: You know those random Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods that taunt people from the Pike? I’d put them behind Bison County. Any place that does barbecue in New England is a place worth visiting. In fact, Waltham has a ton of good restaurants, picking one was not an easy task.