48 bus to loop for another year

January 26, 2009
By

DAVID TABER

Clock ticking for replacement service plan

The MBTA board of directors at its January meeting voted to approve a one-year extension for Jamaica Plain’s route 48 bus to give the community time to come up with alternate service.

Since the possibility of setting up a new service for the bus—also known as the JP Loop bus—was broached close to three months ago few steps have been taken to get that project off the ground.

“It’s been over two months, but in December and January it’s really hard to get people together,” said Milicent Johnson, an aide to state Rep. Liz Malia, who is convening a working group to develop an alterna-tive service plan.

Replacement service has also regularly been on the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) Public Serv-ice Committee’s agenda in recent months. But according to some who have attended those meetings, the conver-sations have not gotten far.

MBTA manager of service planning Melissa Dullea said postponing the demise of the bus route is a “cour-tesy to the city of Boston…so that the community can explore options for substitute service…If the community does not have substitute service in place after one year, we would return to the MBTA Board of Directors for approval to eliminate this route,” according to a written copy of her statements at the boards Jan. 14 meet-ing.

Because of low ridership, the 48 bus was scheduled to be cut in the first version of the MBTA’s 2008 Service Plan—a two-year plan for transit service modifications issued last fall. The bus runs between Monument Square in JP and Jackson Square by way of Amory Street.

Community outcry—particularly from residents at Amory Apartments—a public housing development at 125 Amory St. for the elderly and people with disabilities—led to the postponement.

At public meetings in the fall, Amory Apartments residents said the bus service is their only access to JP’s commercial centers in Jackson Square and JP Center. The bus also provides easy access to the Jackson Square and Green Street Orange Line T Stops, they said.

At one of those meetings, held Nov. 3 at 125 Amory St., MBTA senior transportation planner Greg Strangeways recommended that the community seek a contract with a private transportation company to run a smaller bus along the 48 loop route. The MBTA only runs full-size buses, he said.

He suggested JP could set up a service similar to the Mission Hill Link Bus. That neighborhood bus is run by a nonprofit with funding from the local New England Baptist Hospital and the MBTA. That route cost $11,000 a month to run in 2006.

Johnson said the working group had held one meeting in December. That meeting–geared toward local elected officials—was attended by representatives from the offices of state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, City Councilor’s John Tobin, and John Connolly, and Colleen Keller, JP coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. JPNC member Michael Reiskind, who heads the JPNC public service commit-tee, and a representative from the Roxbury-based T Riders Union also attended the meeting.

The December meeting was intended to “get elected officials briefed on what is happening,” Johnson said.

In coming months, Johnson said, the group will expand to include residents at 125 Amory St. and other interested parties. The group will examine T data about the route, including ridership numbers and where people are going, and will also likely invite representa-tives from the Mission Hill Link Bus to a meeting explain the details of that operation in greater detail, she said.

There has been conversation at the Public Service Committee meetings about “probably collaborating with Amory Street Apartments and with local health centers,” including the Martha Eliot, Brookside and Southern Jamaica Plain community health centers—respectively located in Jackson Square, Egleston Square and JP Center, Colleen Keller JP coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Serv-ices said.

But those groups have not yet been approached. “There have been no official meetings with prospective partners,” she said.

JP resident Sarah Freeman, who has attended some of the meetings said discussion at the January meeting was “not very concrete…One thing that has come up in the past that was reiterated was working with health centers and nursing homes.”

Reiskind did not return Gazette calls by press time.

Johnson said that the idea of approaching health centers had also been discussed at the working group meeting.

She expressed some confusion about the role the Public Service Committee plans to take in organizing the new service. “I don’t know what their role is at all,” she said.

Keller, Freeman and Johnson all said that no efforts had yet been made by the Public Service Committee or the working group to reach out to other potentially interested groups. In November, Egleston Square Main Streets director Betsy Cowan said she would be interested in participating in conversations about bus service in the Egleston Square neighborhood.

Currently the bus does not serve Egleston Square, but smaller buses would be easier to maneuver on neighborhood side streets making it easier to include that neighborhood in the route.