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.

Understaffed Lot Creates Red Sox Transitjam

Stuck in Newton on the way to the ballpark

Stuck in Newton on the way to the ballpark

In a minature version of the Easter 2009 turnpike toll fiasco, insufficient staffing at the Riverside Green line terminal in Newton at noon on Sunday jammed traffic all the way back onto I-95/Route 128.  Red Sox faithful arrived at the station early for the 1:35pm afternoon start … and most still needed all of the time and patience they could muster.

Riverside Lot

Near Capacity Lot a Surprise for a Sunday

Turnout was strong for the short trolley ride to the stadium.  With the reduction in trolley fares inbound from the station a few years ago (from $3 per person to $1.70), families west of Boston seem to know a good deal when they see one.

Too bad the T and its contractor, Central Parking, didn’t get it right today, and they left T patrons idling in traffic for probably forty-five minutes each — right outside of the station.

Traffic backed up to highway overpass

Traffic backed up to highway overpass

The problem: Riverside station has staffed booths at the entrance to the parking lot, and in their wisdom, Central Parking and the T sent just one attendant to staff the collection booth for the entire thousand-space lot.  For occasional parkers, like weekend Red Sox fans, paying for parking is not a speedy proposition.  So the influx of fans piled up at the booth near the back of the station.  And then the line backed up through the station (blocking bus access). And then the line jammed up the local street outside.  And then it jammed up the Route 95/128 overpass, going so far as to stop traffic, bumper to bumper on the Route 95/128 off-ramp.

Transit-jam on highway off-ramp

Transit-jam on highway off-ramp

I doubt many of those fans are feeling very smart now about their decision to ride the T.  A half-hour trip to the Sunday game turned into a two-hour nightmare.  It’s unfortunate that the T and Central Parking can’t figure out a way to collect weekend parking fees in an effective way.

Riverside Station entrance

Riverside Station entrance

When the Turnpike inexplicably jammed patrons earlier this year by understaffing collection booths, the head of the organization promptly resigned.  Although this jam was no less inexcusable, don’t expect the same thing from the T.  In some ways it seems to set the bar lower.  But at Central Parking on the other hand … there may be some anxious days ahead.

(eds. note: Red Sox game coincided with final day of the Tall Ships Festival)