Podcast Episode 30.5 - Ride-Along with Jim Aloisi to WGBH's The Scrum

Buses berth at Sullivan Square in Somerville, MA  [Photo via Flickr]

For this mini-episode of the podcast, we were joined by former Massachusetts Transport Secretary and TransitMatters Board Member Jim Aloisi. We both took a trip on transit from Haymarket Station to Brass Union in Somerville's Union Square.

This episode was recorded on 12 July in the lively environs of an Orange Line train, a CT2 bus, and under the I-93 overpass at Sullivan Square.

During the episode we talked about:

And finally WGBH's The Scrum episode we spent 40 minutes trekking to! You can watch our live recording of The Scrum on Periscope.

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Find out more about Jim Aloisi, me, and our other board members.

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Late Night Mitigation: Designing a Real Overnight Bus Network

Check out the latest on NightBus here

Wondering what to make of the T's late night mitigation proposals?

We at TransitMatters often talk about critical issues such as service hours, frequency, on-time performance and overcrowding. So we’re pleased to see the MBTA recognizes these problems. The specific proposals they have put forth are all good ideas and easy to implement, but they are only small tweaks (which should have been done long ago) and do not make a dent in the growing backlog of service deficiencies (the service that's needed but not currently provided).

We believe there is a better option: a limited overnight bus network as we originally discussed here, which would be an extension of the T’s existing, limited and little-known early morning bus service. This network would operate hourly all night, every night, and be geared primarily toward getting people to their late-night and early morning jobs.

Read all about our useful and affordable plan on the Amateur Planner and CommonWealth Magazine.

Want to know more about what the T has proposed?

Let’s look at the service deficiencies that have been identified:

  1. Service ends too early and starts too late. The proposed changes would not change the hours of service. They would push service a tiny bit earlier in a few cases to increase capacity, but you still can’t get to a 5am shift (or home from a 2am shift) in most of the city.
  2. Bus frequency and on-time performance (reliability) are woefully inadequate. Adding trips (frequency) can relieve overcrowding *if buses are on time*, but does not improve reliability. A comprehensive "bus service improvement plan" is needed to address the persistent underlying causes of poor service, such as traffic congestion, bus bunching, missed trips, outdated fare collection policies and the lack of on-street supervisors and dispatchers.
  3. Still relying on the published schedule? On a typical weekday, Route 111 (serving the overwhelmingly low-income and minority city of Chelsea), sees 1 out of every 15 trips cancelled due to insufficient staffing levels. If 13 scheduled trips are missed every day on one of the city's most crowded bus routes, how will adding more trips to the schedule solve this problem?
  4. Low-income workers can’t access early or late shifts. Even while the recent Late Night Service only ran two nights per week and did not reach everyone, it filled a critical need of low-income workers in the restaurant and entertainment industries. The lack of daily service was a major deficiency, but the latest proposals don’t even attempt to solve that problem. Our proposal would end this injustice.

The recently eliminated Late Night Service served 13,000 passengers per night or 26,000 per week (which greatly undercounts the beneficiaries because most people don’t use it every single day and almost every user also travels on regular daytime service). Even with all of the mitigation options combined, and if they operate as planned, only 5,000 passengers per week would see improvements.

All the options they're proposing still don't make a dent in on-time performance, capacity or the growing backlog of service deficiencies. It is clear that the need for early morning service far outweighs the level of service provided, and that service starts way too late. It would actually be simple and affordable to provide hourly bus service all night on a skeletal network with timed transfer points, and the T should pursue this option instead of working around the margins.

Read more on why all night service is needed, and listen to Podcast 26 where we discuss the overnight concept (as well as in earlier episodes). Head over to the Amateur Planner for all the details on our proposal.

Podcast 22 - MBTA Raising Fares Again, Overtime Lies, Challenges and Opportunities

The MBTA fare increase proposals (presentation, summary) are unnecessary and not even helpful in closing the budget gap. This is the latest example to the way the Fiscal & Management Control Board is using misleading statistics to support an ideological agenda that has never worked. What happened to being visionary and taking a fresh look?

Short of major investment -- which is needed more than ever -- many simple changes could improve the user experience and help alleviate capacity constraints. For example:

  1. The transfer policy could allow unlimited use within 2 hours (instead of the current one-transfer limit) to offer new options for shorter trips, increase ridership, reduce congestion downtown and save money.
  2. All-door boarding on buses and trolleys means faster trips, more frequent service, lower fare evasion and operating cost savings.
  3. Expanding Zone 1A on Commuter Rail to all Boston stations as well as Waltham and Lynn would offer fast service for thousands of low-income riders while reducing operating costs.
  4. Many low-cost changes such as upgrading bus stops, stations and terminals would improve service quality and increase ridership.

UPDATE: See our Fares & Service fact sheet (the longer version is here).

All this and more in this week's show, recorded in the WMBR studio at MIT in Cambridge. Marc offers some insights from this year's TransportationCamp DC on how regional governance could address some of our management challenges, and former T General Manager Beverly Scott was there. We hear a little bit from the growing transit advocacy network, as organizations like TransitMatters start to pop up in cities across the country.

The Transit Matters Podcast is your source for transportation news, analysis, interviews with transit advocates and more. By offering new perspectives, uniting transit advocates and promoting a level of critical analysis normally absent from other media, we can achieve a useful and effective transportation network because Transit Matters.

Like what you hear? Share it around, tell your friends and colleagues, and subscribe to the blog and podcast (on iTunes) to be notified of new posts and episodes. Support our work by becoming a member, making a donation or signing up to volunteer because we can't do this alone. Let us know what you think by connect with TransitMatters on Facebook or Twitter. Follow Jeremy Mendelson @Critical Transit, Josh Fairchild @hatchback31, Jarred Johnson at @jarjoh, Marc Ebuña at @DigitalSciGuy, and or email us here.

Podcast 20 - Advocacy Updates: Fares, Late Night Service, Commuter Rail, GLX and Service Planning to make the MBTA network more effective

Podcast 20 - Advocacy Updates: Fares, Late Night Service, Commuter Rail, GLX and Service Planning to make the MBTA network more effective

This show is focused on MBTA advocacy, with the full crew sharing our thoughts on some of the things in the media lately, and which we've been working on.

Fares increases are proposed again despite the absence of a vision for upgrading and growing our network. It's hard to ask people for more money without real improvements. Some say we should give discounts to low-income riders and raise fares for everyone else. We explore why a two-tier transit system is a terrible idea that will lead to a death spiral and actually impact the poorest riders most. Also, if a transit fare is not a tax, is it a fee?

The MBTA board (FMCB) has proposed eliminating up to 28 bus routes, largely without any analysis of what these routes do or how they operate.  A better approach is to figure out why some routes are expensive and/or attract low ridership, such as poor service quality (on-time performance, frequency, connections) and many seem to be designed to fail. The existing late night service is one example, but rather than get rid of it, service should be vastly improved and expanded to full overnight service (don't forget the early morning needs!). Commuter rail come up too.

We talk about the importance of good service planning, the different levels of planning, and how we can not only make small routine changes but also design a better network. Aside from service cuts, no routes have changed since 2008 and a comprehensive review has never been done, even though travel patterns have changed a lot since the 1964 creation of MBTA. Most routes do not meet basic service standards like crowding and on-time performance. How can we plan for upgrades?

The Green Line Extension is way over budget and horribly mismanaged, largely due to schedule pressures, not enough MBTA staff to oversee this massive project (due to austerity) and as a result contractors scamming the T. Are we learning the lessons as the FMCB looks to cut the budget even more? We explain the importance of carrying out the GLX plan which was approved through an extensive public process, and how proposed project reductions would actually cause us to spend more in operating costs to run the line.

Podcast 18 - Transit Operations & Public-Private Partnerships with John Attanucci

We sit down with longtime transit consultant John Attanucci at the MIT Transit Lab to discuss some of the deficiencies in our transit network and how we could better design and manage it. We also learn about existing private transportation services and how they might help fill critical gaps in the MBTA network if the T remains unable to add or change its services. And we touch on the revenue question.

Fun fact: The single most important factor affecting bus reliability is leaving the starting point on time. What will it take to have 95% of all trips leaving at their scheduled time (or for the most frequent routes, at an even interval)?

Don't miss this month's Beer & Transit with former Governor Michael Dukakis. Full details and link to RSVP at transitmatters.info.

Podcast 06 - Dealing with Overcrowding | Guest: Amateur Planner

Podcast 06 - Dealing with Overcrowding | Guest: Amateur Planner

We are joined by the Amateur Planner to talk about transit challenges such as crowded trains and buses, planning and managing bus routes, taxis, parking, fares, and some ways we can do to improve our transit system.

Boston's Buses Soon to Remove 'Boston Strong' Messages

A bus going through South Boston proudly displays 'Boston Strong' on its head sign and side LED sign. At yesterday's MBTA Rider Oversight Committee meeting, it was revealed by bus operations representative Dave Carney that the T would soon be spreading the word to all drivers to remove the message 'Boston Strong'  from the cycled messages on bus LED signs.

While not explicitly mandated by federal ADA law, the signs are intended for passenger information. The patriotic message takes up a full 1/3 or 1/2 of the display's time since each portion of the message is shown for the exact same amount of time. This can mean that the buses' route information may not actually be displayed long enough to determine which route the bus is serving before passing the stop, depending on how fast the bus is approaching.

Speaking frankly, Carney noted that it will be an arduous process to take the message off buses since it needs to be removed bus by bus and some drivers may refuse to remove the message despite orders from their supervisors. If it persists, the agency may have to address individual drivers about making the change. Apparently each bus' head sign is individually programmed, a potential opportunity for operations improvement with the MBTA.