JP Observer

Scary changes proposed for 39 bus route withdrawn by T

By Sandra Storey / Special to the Gazette

     In response to an outpouring of community feedback, the MBTA is not going to implement shocking changes it proposed for the 39 bus route in May. The T revealed the reversal on its website this week

     Just days before Halloween, Jamaica Plainers can now feel secure about keeping the uninterrupted ride on the current 39 bus route safe from major tampering.

     The route much of the community wanted preserved begins at Forest Hills Station, goes down South Street, Centre Street, and S. Huntington Avenue, turns right onto Huntington Avenue and extends through Mission Hill to Back Bay now. With this recent change, it will, thank goodness, continue to do so.

     The drastic changes to the 39 route in May and the recent pivot came out of the MBTA’s Bus Network Redesign (BNRD) process, called a “once in a generation” examination of the T’s network of bus routes and how to improve them based on people’s needs. The BSRD project focused on statistics collected about where people say they want to be able to go easily.

     A “staggering volume” of comments from the community on the 39 bus changes, MBTA Senior Director of Service planning Melissa Dullea indicated in a telephone interview, are responsible for the about-face.

     The T got 20,000 comments about proposed route changes, and they “heard a lot about the 39 bus” during the extensive comment period, Dullea said. The 39 route proposal was the subject in the top 10 percent of input, she added.

     The T will present revised draft proposals, including for the 39 bus, and answer questions at a Zoom meeting on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. For information about registering for the meeting and a link to information about BNRD process itself, go to https://www.mbta.com/events/2022-11-02/public-meeting-bus-network-redesign-virtual          

     Mayor Michelle Wu voiced the City of Boston perspective by sending a letter and a detailed attachment on Sept. 21 to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak.

     The 39 route between Forest Hills and Back Bay is one of three Boston bus routes “that must be complemented, not removed…These connections are vital to communities they serve and would not be well-served by the current MBTA proposals,” the letter said.

     The proposed route 39 “improvement” would have broken the 39 route off at Brigham Circle on Huntington Avenue. In the May draft proposal, riders wanting to go farther down Huntington would have had to disembark there.

     The 39 would have then turned to eventually go to Union Square in Somerville, and end at Porter Square in Cambridge. How long it would probably take to travel between Forest Hills and Porter Square was brought up in local discussions frequently.

     No longer would the popular bus route have gone near the Museum of Fine Arts, Northeastern University, Boston Public Library, Copley Square, Boston Latin School, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the Prudential Center.

     To go there and other destinations on the way to Back Bay, JP riders would have had to get out and wait outdoors to transfer to the Arborway Green Line that begins and ends in JP at S. Huntington Avenue and Heath Street.

     Lots of people here also reacted with horror in person when they found out about the original proposed changes in bus 39. The September and October meetings of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Public Service Committee featured disapproval of the revised 39 route.

     Committee Chair Michael Reiskind wondered aloud at the September meeting if ridership projections were used by planners, “How many riders will the new bus route lose?” he asked rhetorically. He listed important destinations named above that were being cut off the route.

     Michael Epp said, “It’s a way to diminish ridership.”

     “It never occurred to me they would change one of the busiest bus lines,” Sarah Freeman said.

     As is obvious from the proposed revised route for the 39, the T was trying to address a perceived unmet need for public transit from JP to Cambridge/Somerville. It’s unclear if they considered that a subway ride between Forest Hills and Harvard Square via Orange and Red Lines takes less than an hour and stops at many popular destinations along the way.

     Gert Thorn pointed that out at the September meeting.

     No one is complaining about one terrific change to the 39 route that came out of the BNRD process: The 39 bus will become a “T 39 bus” meaning it will have the new designation as a “Top Priority Route.” The T is promising that buses will arrive every 15 minutes or fewer throughout the day, seven days a week. The only 39 route change people will see, Dullea said, is that the bus stop signs will be changed to say T 39.         

              To achieve this transport frequency, of course, the T will need more operators. To learn more about T hiring go to MBTA.com/careers.

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