The MBTA announced a new, COVID-19 informed fall bus schedule, and it means more service than current levels on virtually every route in Chelsea while cutting back on suburban and downtown Boston routes that are seeing sharp declines in ridership.
The news came during a Thursday, Aug. 13, meeting online where the MBTA announced their Fall schedule, and also announced major changes to service as the Authority starts to see more ridership emerging in low-income, communities of color where there are lots of essential workers.
Seems Chelsea and many surrounding communities fit the bill – particularly the Route 111 bus that was one of the busiest routes during the pandemic and continues to rebound quickly in ridership.
“The big takeaways are that ridership has recovered more quickly on our bus routes compared to other modes,” said Kat Benesh, MBTA chief of operations strategy, policy and oversight. “Fortunately, bus ridership dipped less during the early months of the pandemic and is recovering more quickly.”
She said that bus ridership systemwide in mid-July was at 40 percent of pre-COVID numbers. However, some buses have recovered much faster, or never really lost great deals of ridership. Those routes included those that went to medical centers, that served low-income communities with lots of essential workers, routes near grocery stores and communities with geographic obstacles like the Mystic/Tobin Bridge.
The Route 111 has already rebounded to 42 percent of pre-COVID ridership, one of the leading rebounds in the entire system.
It is in those areas where service will increase to levels greater than before COVID-19, and in Chelsea that will include Bus Routes 111, 112, 116, 117, and Silver Line 3.
“One of the most important things we can do is eliminate crowding,” said Benesh. “One of the things we are prioritizing is adding service to routes that need more capacity versus giving less service to some areas that are seeing less ridership.”
Some of the major beneficiaries of this plan was Chelsea’s major 111 Route over the Tobin Bridge – as well as key routes in Boston’s Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan areas.
There was no shortage of praise for the route, and it was also used as an example during the meeting.
“The Route 111 is an example of one of the more durable routes,” said Benesh. “It’s a route where we did not see ridership decline as deeply as it did in other bus routes. We also see that ridership is rebounding to higher levels, not quite to pre-COVID levels, but higher relative to other routes.”
The new plan will include 456 trips per day, which is more than the levels prior to COVID-19 shutdowns. On March 16, before shutdowns, there were 373 runs per day. During the pandemic, that scaled down to 300 per day, but went up to 447 trips a day on June 22. Now, in the fall schedule, it will bump up even further to 456 per day.
Some of the major cutbacks are to routes in the suburbs where people are working from home and are more likely to have a car. Also cut from service are many of the Express buses from the suburbs that mostly handled commuters that now no longer come into the city.
Other routes include inner-city services that mostly served commuters, like the Silver Line 2 route in Boston. At the same time, the Silver Line 3 service that ends at Market Basket on the Chelsea/Everett line will be restored to near pre-COVID levels, but isn’t seeing as strong ridership as other buses due to the continuing lag in the airport business.
The new Fall schedule is to take effect on Aug. 30 and 31, but there is room to adjust routes after three month – around November.
The key route changes in Chelsea are below:
•Route 111 (Woodlawn to Haymarket) Regular weekday schedule resumes with more service than pre-COVID. Saturday trips added.
•Route 112 (Market Basket Chelsea to Wellington via Chelsea Street) – Regular weekday schedule resumes with more service than pre-COVID.
•Route 116 (Bellingham Square) Regular weekday schedule resumes with more service than pre-COVID.
•Route 117 (Bellingham Square) Regular weekday schedule resumes with more service than pre-COVID.
•Silver Line 3 (Chelsea/Everett to South Station) – Weekday schedule resumes with nearly pre-COVID service levels.