Thoughts on the Route 28X Failure

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What’s Route 28X? It was MassDOT’s attempt to turn the sloooow Route 28 bus route up Blue Hill Avenue into a Bus Rapid Transit Route. Sadly, it died due to neighborhood opposition — it appears 3 things felled it:

1) Lack of Neighborhood Input on Process – This was probably unavoidable as the state had to move quickly to apply for the federal funds and tried to backfill with ‘civic engagement’ but to no avail.

2) Resistance to Tearing Up the Median Strip on Blue Hill Avenue — To create a dedicated (as in faster than sitting in traffic) bus lane, it would be built on the median strip on at least a portion of Blue Hill Avenue. The improvements made to this median have significantly improved the area’s appearance and would be missed.

3) Opposition By Certain Customer Groups — Bus Rapid Transit is great for most riders — you get where you are going faster. But it comes at a (small, in my mind, but that’s easy for me to say) price, stops are further apart. For a meaningful subsection of customers (think elderly and disabled), the value of convenience trumps speed. In some cases, it probably makes sense to program a less frequent bus that keeps the same stops as the old route to address this need. (Maybe a modified Route 29 would have worked?)

Regardless, it’s too bad — this would have been a useful project and great proving ground for BRT concepts.

There was one fascinating paragraph in the original Route 28X application:

approximately one-fifth of all trips taken on Route 28 are made using cash onboard, a fare payment method that dramatically slows boarding, and another one-fifth of trips are made using a CharlieTicket (a magnetic-stripe paper ticket that requires a few more seconds than a CharleCard to interact with a bus farebox). In addition to slow boarding times, the combination of these circumstances with signifcant crowding usually means that many passengers are not interacting with the farebox. [Emphasis Added]

That last sentence is an interesting one — a lot of people are getting on the bus (or being let on by overwhelmed drivers who need to get moving to make schedule) without paying.

More importantly, this is the first time I’ve heard the MBTA concede one of the major, tragic shortcomings of automated fare collection (“AFC”, which I support wholeheartedly). AFC works great with contactless Charliecards. But, for whatever reasons, many folks have not/will not adopt them and still use cash or paper tickets, which take between 2 – 10 seconds to be read, up to 40% in the case of Route 28. This is not a big deal on the subway — the trains come when they come and fare reading delays are at the station gate. Its a really big deal on buses where fare collection occurs on board — a queue of 20 people can take upwards of five minutes to clear. Route 28X was going to try and avoid some of this problem with on-bus fare collection, but sadly, not anymore.

UPDATE: The indispensable Universal Hub points out a Gin Dumcius article in the Dorchester Report from last week that broke the story. It contains the tasty morsel that the original Route 28X project was announced by the Governor at a May press conference where he was flanked at the podium by area legislators. None of whom knew anything about the project. Oops.