STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
AFTER PAUSING the campaign due to a shortage of drivers, MBTA officials are hopeful they can revive an effort to overhaul and expand the bus network by the end of next year.
Justin Antos, the MBTA’s senior director of bus transformation, said Tuesday the project that aims to boost bus service by 25 percent over a five-year period “has a schedule again” amid an improved hiring outlook.
“We are tentatively targeting here that by the end of calendar year 2024, [we want] to bring the first of what we’re hoping to be about five phases of service changes to the street,” Antos said, outlining work he’s done so far to build up a team that will oversee the project.
Antos presented a timeline to the MBTA Board that called for additional design and coordination work to take place into 2024, followed by construction next year and the first Bus Network Redesign-fueled service changes in December 2024.
MBTA officials rolled out a plan for the bus system transformation in the spring of 2022, but questions quickly emerged over whether they could afford the additional spending it would require or had enough employees to accommodate a significant increase in service. Agency managers have also been grappling with serious labor shortages and safety issues on its subway system.
MBTA Chief of Operations Planning, Scheduling and Strategy Kat Benesh told the agency’s board the bus project had been “on pause due to the operator shortage.”
“We have reduced bus service, I want to say, by more than 10 percent since COVID, and that’s largely due to number of operators,” Benesh said. “We’ve always said since March 2020 that when we rebuild the network, it will look different than it did in February 2020.”
Applications for bus driver positions have surged in recent weeks after officials approved a new collective bargaining agreement that features an 18 percent pay increase, $7,500 sign-on bonuses and paid commercial driver’s license training.
The T on Tuesday published a new “Bus Priority Toolkit” that officials say outlines priorities for installing bus lanes and upgrading signal systems to have the greatest impact.
“Our long-term vision for regional bus priority investments is now available for the first time ever,” MBTA General Manager Phil Eng said in a statement about the toolkit. “We are showing how joint investments in street improvements with our municipal and state partners can create the changes we need to better serve our bus riders.”
While the MBTA works to electrify its existing bus fleet, board members also approved a $27 million contract with J.F. White Contracting to install charging stations and related infrastructure at a North Cambridge bus facility and an amendment to another contract for a proposed Quincy electric bus facility.
The T previously awarded a contract to Suffolk Construction for the Quincy site, and MBTA Chief of Capital Delivery Christopher Brennan said the final $298 million amendment that won approval Tuesday covers subcontractor and trade contractor costs.
Board member Robert Butler, the board’s designated member from an organized labor background, voted against the amended contract, saying he could not support it because it included only about 90 percent union work. Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch abstained from the vote.
The new bus garages, like the bus network redesign, will come online much later than originally forecast. The North Cambridge facility is currently not scheduled to come online until November 2025 and the Quincy garage not until March 2027.