Move That Bus

Crowd waiting for rider to drive inactive bus

The 57 bus.  What can I say?  Forty-five stops in five-and-a-half miles of Brighton, Allston, Newton, and Watertown.  One stop for every 650 feet.  In traffic.  It isn’t exactly the kind of ride that anyone really looks forward to.

But the 57 gets riders.  Lots of riders.  One might think that would prompt the T to emphasize frequent, reliable operations.

Why then, does the T allow excessive numbers of riders to accumulate at peak hours, waiting for that bus?  The T’s foot-dragging seems doubly strange when there is both an inactive bus and a driver waiting at the 57′s origin in Kenmore Square, just waiting … waiting … waiting for … I’m not sure, just waiting.  Ten minutes, fifteen ….

This picture was taken on a Tuesday evening at 9:15 p.m., at Kenmore square.  This was the scene for perhaps 20 minutes (that I personally saw); I would guess that the earliest arrivals were waiting at least 40 minutes.  The group in the picture (which continued to form for some time) is actually quite large; the people are standing right up to the edge of the curb, and not exclusively for the view of the inactive bus directly in front of them.  The erstwhile bus driver was sipping a latte, taking it all in.  And this was (according the the Red Sox recap) about an hour before the end of the game.  This was not part of the post-game rush.

The run at 9:12 p.m. run obviously was dropped.  It seems very doubtful as well that the 8:52 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. routes ever left the station either.  If they occurred, they certainly failed to accommodate everyone who was waiting for the bus at those times.  At least two other empty (or nearly empty) buses went through the station while the group was waiting.  One was “Out of Service,” and the other was running a route that no one apparently was riding.

Eventually the loitering bus driver restarted the bus, marked it as the 57, and pulled it to the curb.  The driver must have been scheduled for the 9:24 p.m. run.  Never mind that the three preceding runs of the 57 bus never happened.  It was a cozy ride with the large group that had gathered to wait, made more unpleasant by the over-earnest warnings of a second T employee who urged packed-in riders to stand behind the yellow line or else.

In another context, for another agency, this would be a sign of part of an organization headed in the wrong direction, unable to motivate employees to provide critical services in an appropriate manner.  But for the T, unfortunately, it is another night of business as usual.  At least on the 57 bus.

Bus Exhaust Other Than From Tailpipe

Tailpipe up top, but the exhaust escapes below.

Tailpipe up high, but the exhaust leaks out below

Recently, I saw bus 0462 (marked in the picture for route 504) belching fumes.  That itself is not remarkable.  Some buses just stink.  But this bus stunk in a peculiar way.  See in the picture to the right how there is an exhaust pipe up high to the left of the bus, strategically above the passenger compartment and away from the curb?  That is where one would expect the bus fumes to escape.

Instead, the fumes on this bus came out the bottom, apparently whenever the driver hit the gas, in a big gray plume.  (The picture shows the bus idling).

I’ve seen several buses like this in the last year.  Exhaust pipe on the top, heavy stinky exhaust cloud down below.  When I’ve been unlucky, I’ve ridden on that bus and been made queasy by diesel fumes that perfumed the passenger compartment.  Maybe it was the same 0462 bus over and over.

If the cloud of exhaust underneath the bus is indicative of a major leak in the exhaust system — the other possibility of a dummy exhaust pipe seems unlikely — one might wonder how the bus ever made it out of the shop.  Ahem … make that “might have wondered,” i.e., wondered in the past.  Turns out the bus maintenance people have been falsifying records to keep up the appearance that they could handle their backlogs of work.  So far nineteen supervisors have been disciplined for faking regular maintenance of the buses.

Here’s guessing 0462 is overdue for its next checkup.  Hopefully the T will have enough supervisors to deal with this problem soon.

How Loud Is That Bus Outside My Window?

How loud is that diesel (or natural gas) city bus?  Too loud: about 93 decibels (peak volume) measured from a bus stop when the bus is pulling away from the curb.  On the sound scale, that is more than four times louder than a vacuum cleaner (70dB) and more than twice as loud as an alarm clock (80dB).    That makes the MBTA’s city bus Boston’s noisiest neighbor.  No wonder why people have a hard time adapting to living near a bus stop.  Just don’t open the windows.

The only thing louder?  Interestingly, riding in the back seat of the bus is as much as four times louder than staying at the stop.  My handy Radio Shack meter clocked a very impressive 112dB (peak volume) when the bus was accelerating at moderate to high speeds.  That puts riding on the back seat of the bus on par with … sandblasting or attending a loud rock concert!  Better change seats after 15 to 30 minutes; sitting in that back seat much longer could exceed OSHA’s daily permissible noise level exposure.  Incredibly, standing ten feet away from an MBCR locomotive accelerating through an underpass did not beat that peak from the interior of the bus, although the locomotive may have sustained a higher average noise level.

It probably would not exaggerate much to guess that the MBTA’s diesel and natural gas bus fleet has become Boston’s de facto alarm clock.   Of course, it didn’t have to be that way.  Years ago, the diesels replaced whisper-soft trackless trolleys.  Trolleys of the trackless variety still operate through Harvard Square on overhead lines, and still barely make a sound over the background traffic.  Sure beats having a double-volume alarm clock for a neighbor.