MBTA Buses Narrowly Avoid Getting Thrown Under the Bus

Rafael Mares | @RafaelMares2

MBTA-buses

MBTA buses, like the #39 pictured here, received a reprieve from potential catastrophe with yesterday’s announcement.

When the draft five-year Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Capital Investment Plan (CIP) came out on January 9, 2014, it was natural to look for what was missing. After all, the Transportation Finance Act of 2013 provided an average of $600 million per year to fill a state-wide transportation funding gap of at least $1 billion per year. Nevertheless, what we found was astounding. The draft MassDOT CIP included no funding for replacing Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) buses over the next five years. This is in spite of MassDOT having just identified last year a critical need of $450 million to replace the MBTA’s aging bus fleet. The fact that the MBTA’s draft Capital Investment Program included roughly $15 million dollars for bus replacement did not ease our minds.

The MBTA bus fleet consists of more than a thousand vehicles in active use, more than 10% of which are already beyond their useful life of twelve years. By FY19, about 85% of the MBTA buses will be beyond their useful life. The remaining 15% will be eleven years old at that time. Buses cover the most distance of any mode on the MBTA system, a total of 763 route miles, more than commuter rail (413 route miles), heavy rail (38 route miles), ferries (38 route miles), and light rail (currently 26 route miles) combined. At 42.7%, buses are also the mode in the MBTA system with the highest number of riders of color by far. The percentages for the other modes are 24.1% on the subway, 13.3% on the commuter rail, 13.7% on the Ride, and 5.2% on the ferries.

So CLF raised these concerns with the MBTA, MassDOT and others. Failing to replace any of these buses for the next five+ years would not be sustainable, would run counter to the state’s climate change goals, and would be a clear set back to transit justice and civil rights in the Greater Boston area. Yesterday, MassDOT listened, and, as the Boston Business Journal and The Boston Globe report, added $355 million for MBTA bus replacement to its Capital Investment Plan. A significant portion of that money, $150 million, is an addition to MBTA’s budget.

While we celebrate this victory, it is also worth noting that the MassDOT CIP includes funding to finally replace the outdated Orange and Red Line cars. At the same time, other significant problems remain, such as underfunding of the MBTA’s infrastructure, the lack of funding for overhauling the No. 3 Red Line Cars, and the lack of sufficient and timely funding for regional transit authority funding. CLF and our partners are already at work to address these issues and ensure that our statewide public transportation system is modern, affordable, accessible, and environmentally sustainable.

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