A new plan by the MBTA could change how thousands of North Shore residents get to work everyday.
The agency has proposed changes to more than five dozen bus routes that promise to increase regularity and improve dependability.
Dubbed the Better Bus Project, the T has outlined 47 no-cost proposals to update and modernize 63 bus routes, including many on the North Shore.
“We are looking to make changes that improve the reliability and frequency of our bus service,” said Wes Edwards, the MBTA’s assistant general manager of service development.
It’s been a decade since the transit agency initiated major changes to its service plan. In the last few years, T management has shown a renewed interest in how to better move bus passengers.
The transit agency is continuing to hold public hearings statewide to hear suggestions. Residents can offer their take on the changes on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. at North Shore Community College’s Lynn campus.
“Overwhelmingly, riders want more frequent and more reliable service,” Edwards said.
The T acknowledged there will be changes riders dislike.
For Lynn riders who take the 435 bus, pick-up would shift from Pine Hill to Euclid Avenue.
The T said there will be 98 new trips each weekday on that route and wait time would be reduced by 10 minutes. However, 1 percent of the riders will have a half-mile walk to the bus and another 1 percent of riders from Linwood Street will no longer get service within a half-mile walk.
Melissa Dullea, the senior director of service planning, said the reason for the 435 route change is the variants tend to be inconsistent, which can make it difficult for operators and customers to track. The goal is to make the route easier to understand, she said.
With the 459 bus, all services on this route run to Downtown Crossing. Under the proposal, the route would end at Wonderland, which would help offer twice as many trips on the 455 route.
Edwards said with the increase in traffic backups in the Ted Williams tunnel, the 459 stop at Wonderland would minimize the three-hour round trip into the city. The proposal wouldn’t cut the service, it would just reinvest into the 455, he said.
For the 424 bus, morning routes already end at Wonderland. The proposal would make the evening routes end there as well, instead of continuing on to Haymarket in Boston. The change would also utilize more efficient routes to get to the station.
“It is timely that the MBTA has initiated this program to improve the bus system across the state, including here in Lynn,” said Lynn Mayor Thomas M. McGee. “It is imperative that we continue to highlight the need for more affordable and accessible transportation here in Lynn and throughout the region.”
Marblehead, Swampscott and Lynn
In addition, the T is proposing to eliminate bus service from the North Shore to Downtown Crossing. Instead, four routes would end at Wonderland Station.
Here’s how the 441, 442, 448, and 449 routes on the North Shore would be impacted, according to Dullea.
Today, they all start in Marblehead and travel though Swampscott and Lynn to Wonderland Station. The 448 and 449 continue to Boston’s Seaport District and end at Downtown Crossing.
Dullea said because the 448 and 449 operate during rush hour, sometimes a round trip takes three hours. In many cases, she said, passengers can get to downtown faster by making a connection on the Blue Line.
Under the new proposal, riders would save at least $3 with the connection.
“We found that on those trips, about two-thirds of the 448 and 449 riders get off at Wonderland Station and the buses are very lightly used to go to Boston,” she said.
If the T eliminated the 448 and 449 routes, but had more frequency on 441 and 442, that would make more sense, she said.
“The restructuring of some of the routes to reduce delays and increase reliability for Swampscott is something we have needed for some time,” said Swampscott Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald. “With this, we will have to study these proposed changes carefully and continue to monitor ridership and performance standards to ensure that we implement strategies that make sense of the entire transportation network.”
The most significant change to Saugus would be the elimination of service to Cliftondale Square and Saugus Iron Works from the 430 bus. Rather than looping from Vine Street to Central Street, onto Essex Street and back to Vine Street, the bus would travel from Vine Street to Main Street. This should result in a three-minute shorter wait time for 96 percent of riders.
The 429, 428, and 426 bus routes will still service Cliftondale Square, with 426 making the most frequent stops about every 30 minutes, said Dullea.
Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Saugus Board of Selectmen, said she opposes any elimination of bus service because of the expenses and traffic associated with driving to Boston. She was happy to learn that three buses will still serve Cliftondale Square, which is home to about a dozen small businesses.
“I would encourage people that use the 430 bus route to send comments to the MBTA,” said Panetta.
Taken together, Edwards said, this package of “cost-neutral” proposals lays the foundation for a bus network of smarter service that provides better connections.
TransitMatters, which advocates policies that improve public transportation, praised the plan.
“Overall, we are happy the T is considering updates to make bus routes on time and faster for riders,” said Andy Monat, the group’s outreach director. “They did a fair bit of in-depth analysis on what the trade-offs would be for the changes and it’s certainly worth looking at.”
After reviewing the comments at more public hearings to come, and talking with the T’s cities and towns, the agency could tweak the recommendations and implement them as early as next fall.
The proposals can be found at mbta.com/betterbus. They include a description of each proposed change by route number, a map of the change, and the data supporting the change along with the trade-offs.