Working for MBTA bus funding and improvements

February 28, 2014

At a hearing in January, T Riders Union (TRU) members demanded that MassDOT’s five-year plan restore $450 million in bus improvement funding for the MBTA. The first draft of the Capital Investment Plan (CIP), which will determine transportation funding until 2019, fails to allocate any of the available $12.4 billion for replacing old buses. Additionally, the state funding won last year by TRU members and the Public Transit-Public Good campaign for public transportation is absent in their operations budget.

TRU members testify at a MassDOT hearing on their Capital Improvement Plan

Riders at the MassDOT hearing were shocked that the plan did not include any money to replace buses for the next five years, and the vast majority of testimonies spoke to this point. Buses have a useful life of 12 years before needing an overhaul. This maintenance is critical for safety and operations, and after 18 years, buses should be replaced altogether.

“The buses that I was riding in elementary school, I ride to work today,” said TRU member Stuart Spina. “How much longer will riders have to wait for a modern and reliable fleet?”

Today, 11 percent of the MBTA’s fleet are 20 years old and on average, have racked over 500,000 miles—which is enough to ride around the earth 20 times. By 2019, 85 percent will be past their useful life. The remaining 15 percent will be 11 years old, and MassDOT will not have any funded plans to replace them. Without investment in the next five years, these buses will have to stay in service until the summer of 2022 or else there will be noticeable cuts to service due to bus shortages.

We are also concerned that ignoring costs now will make repairs more expensive later. “If you neglect maintenance now, it’s going to cost more money later on,” said TRU Chairperson Louise Baxter. “Problems that could be resolved at minimal cost now could mean serious financial burdens after five years.”

Two weeks ago at the MassDOT Board meeting, Louise delivered TRU's written comments regarding the draft CIP [PDF], along with testimony supporting the Massachusetts Senior Action Council's (MSAC) opposition to a five percent fare increase on the so-called "premium" RIDE service.

After hearing riders’ testimonies, MBTA Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Davis made a commitment of $350 million to bus replacement. However, that is still less than the $450 million needed just to maintain the system, without improvements.

There are some encouraging parts of the plan as well. Funding is included to replace Red, Orange and Green Line cars, extend the Green Line into Somerville, expand Silver Line bus service to Chelsea, allocate $191 million to Regional Transit Authorities, improve and expand commuter rail service and build bike and pedestrian paths on Commonwealth Avenue.

TRU members also request that MassDOT remove funding for the Melnea Cass Boulevard widening. Residents are opposed to the $10 million plan, as it will eliminate green space, require the removal of trees, and make crossing the street more difficult.

There’s still time to tell MassDOT what you think of the five-year plan. Contact us for more information and see updates on our blog.