Route 39 bus service is not high-quality

The headline from your last issue [JP Gazette, Aug. 10], “Report: 39 bus mostly on time,” suggests, at least to me, that Route 39 bus service in Jamaica Plain is of high quality. That conclusion is completely unwarranted from the information provided and is counter to the experiences of regular Route 39 bus riders.

The MBTA considers any bus that arrives within the scheduled interval to be “on time.” One example shows why this measure is incorrect. Suppose that buses are scheduled every five minutes, or 12 an hour. Suppose further that the first bus arrives at the top of the hour, and the next 11 buses arrive 59 minutes later, all one second apart. By the MBTA’s method, only the second bus would be considered late, and all the others (90 percent) would be counted on time—even though almost all passengers arriving during that hour would have a wait of nearly an hour instead of an average of 2.5 minutes if the buses were evenly spaced.

Long gaps between buses remain a critical problem; even the limited counts cited by the Gazette found gaps as long as 28 minutes. That’s completely unacceptable. Moreover, we have evidence that buses do not leave Forest Hills or Back Bay evenly spaced. The problem is thus well within the MBTA’s ability to control, despite their assertions to the contrary. The fact that bunching was reported on a Sunday morning demonstrates there is a problem.

The state’s Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) has just announced the first meeting on Sept. 10 to discuss improving transit in this corridor as mandated by the agreement signed with Conservation Law Foundation when the trolleys were removed from the Central Artery commitments list. Better Transit Without Trolleys wants to see that this process leads to an MBTA commitment to quarterly reports of service quality with a goal of spacing similar to that achieved on the Orange Line. We also request that EOT set up a process to plan for service, intersection, signage, and other capital improvements along the route, funded by the $10 million set aside for that purpose in 2000 ($2 million of which has since been used for trolley planning).

Now that the state is finally focusing on improving transit, we must have a serious, adequately funded study with a scope discussed with the community and a commitment from the MBTA and the City of Boston to cooperate to make both streetscape and operating improvements to prioritize transit vehicles. We call on all those who are interested in better transit to participate in this process, and demand that the public agencies deliver on their promise to provide high-quality service in the corridor.

Paul Schimek

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