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Friday, December 9, 2022

The MBTA is redesigning its bus network. But for these 3 bus routes, Boston has other ideas.

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“These routes must be complemented, not removed.”

A 28 bus heads inbound to Ruggles Station on Blue Hill Avenue in March. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

The MBTA is planning for the first major reworking of its bus network since the 1960s.

In May, the agency boasted a draft of the Bus Network Redesign will bring access to high-frequency service to 275,000 more people, with essentially a bus every 15 minutes or sooner, every day of the week in five years’ time.

Bus offerings, as noted in the preliminary proposal, would expand up to 30 corridors from the current 15, with new all-day service expanding to Everett, Lynn, Medford, South Boston, West Roxbury, and Somerville.

But there are a few things Boston officials are asking the MBTA to reconsider as the process moves forward.

Mayor Michelle Wu, in a letter to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak on Wednesday, highlighted the city’s opposition to amending bus routes 11 and 55 and the plans to cut a section of the Route 39 bus’s current route, which connects Jamaica Plain with Back Bay.

“We know that certain existing neighborhood routes are key to our riders — including older adults and people with disabilities,” Wu wrote. “These routes must be complemented, not removed.”

In official comments to the MBTA, the city wrote officials have “significant” concerns about scrapping Route 39 service along the existing stretch from Brigham Circle to Copley Square. The route currently runs through Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill, and Brookline on its way to Jamaica Plain.

“This one-seat ride is essential for residents of Jamaica Plain who lost E Line trolley service in the 1980s and never saw that connection restored, despite MBTA claims at the time and later Big Dig-era commitments,” officials wrote. “This connection must be maintained as a high frequency service.”

If it takes hold, the current MBTA proposal would rename the Route 39 bus to T39, and would extend service from Brigham Circle, across the Charles River into Central Square, Union Square, and Porter Square.

However, to do that, the MBTA would also cut the portion of the existing 39 route between Brigham Circle and Copley Square.

Riders looking to continue to Copley Square would have to transfer from the T39 to the Green Line.

“While the City supports better (Longwood Medical Area) to Cambridge/Somerville connections, this route should not be at the expense of direct Jamaica Plain to Back Bay service,” officials wrote. “The City would strongly prefer continued service on the current Route 39 as well a new service utilizing the proposed T39 routing.”

For the Route 55 bus, which connects Fenway and Kenmore to Back Bay, the city supports the MBTA’s vision to maintain a connection from Fenway to Kenmore Square. But the city wants to see the agency “provide an accessible transfer to the Green Line and serve local needs for connections to Downtown and other key destinations.”

Wu, in her letter, noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the 55 bus provided service to Downtown — another change the city wants to see be made a reality.

Officials added they are additionally “dismayed that the MBTA is removing all bus service from Heath Street.”

“This is an important connection for Mission Hill, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain residents,” the filing states. “We strongly believe that there should be transit service on Heath Street. Given the significant concerns about the T39 and Route 55 re-routing to Cambridge, we believe that an alternative connection could be a route from Jackson Square to Porter Square via Heath Street and the (Longwood Medical Area). This would provide the connection to Cambridge while allowing the current routes to be maintained.”

The city is also concerned about plans for the Route 11 bus, which traverses South Boston to Broadway station. Officials wrote the route is a “critical neighborhood connection for South Boston residents to the Tufts Medical Center and serves the growing A Street corridor.”

“This service must be preserved and enhanced in order to continue serving this vital function,” officials wrote.

The city does not outright oppose the redesign efforts, though.

According to Wu, officials support many of the key tenets of the redesign. She called the plans for high-frequency routes and improved crosstown services “crucial to the future of the transportation network.”

Still, beyond issues the city sees surrounding neighborhood routes, Wu wants to see more details from the MBTA, “particularly around the operational and financial plans to ensure consistent, frequent, and reliable service.

“The MBTA must outline supporting resource commitments
that will make this vision a reality,” the mayor wrote.

Wu also urged the transit agency to prioritize rider experience and accessibility.

“Boston’s residents and my administration deeply appreciate the MBTA’s recognition that buses are core to the future of public transit,” Wu wrote in her letter. “We value our strong partnership with the MBTA and look forward to working together to ensure that Bus Network Redesign makes
our buses work better for everyone.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the T told Boston.com the agency is looking the city’s comments.

“With a shared goal of designing a bus network that reflects shifting demographics, emerging employment areas and changing travel patterns, the MBTA continues to have a productive dialogue with the City,” the statement reads. “The network redesign team is reviewing the City’s comments, along with the approximately 20,000 additional comments received on the draft network map. As part of the ongoing review process, the redesign team is evaluating potential changes to the map in response to public feedback.”

The MBTA plans to have recommended changes to the proposed network by late October.

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