An information session Wednesday night about changes in South Boston bus service left many audience members frustrated with the impression that the transportation plan, which includes closing some bus stops, would move ahead despite their objections.
“It came as a shock and then at the end, they essentially said ‘this is what will happen,’” said South Boston resident Jenn Menjin. “They had this meeting, but they’re going to do it either way.”
Menjin said she came to the meeting expecting to learn about plans to permanently relocate bus routes from East Fourth Street to the less congested East Broadway, but was surprised to hear plans to eliminate some bus stops, leaving fewer stations in the area despite public feedback asking for more.
Around 15,000 South Boston residents rely on buses for transportation every day, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Wednesday’s meeting was one of a two held by the MBTA aimed at discussing enhancements to service reliability and efficiency throughout South Boston. The MBTA hired consulting associates Nelson\Nygaard to develop a revised transportation system after receiving complaints about overcrowding and inaccessibility at many bus stops.
Ralph De Nisco, a consultant with Nelson\Nygaard presented a plan to move bus routes along East Fourth Street and P Street to East Broadway and Farragut Road, where streets and sidewalks would provide more room for both buses and residents.
The plan also included evaluations on each current and future potential stop, analyzing sidewalk conditions, parking impact and resident and bus accessibility. De Nisco said the goal was to eliminate “about every other stop and improve the ones in-between.”
However, many residents said there aren’t enough buses in circulation, and to reduce the number of stops would cause more passenger congestion.
“This is unacceptable,” Menjin said. “I walk to work every day — I have that luxury — but I walk out and there’s about 60 people out on Broadway at 7:30 a.m. We can’t be getting rid of bus stops when there’s already so many people waiting.”
Other residents complained of being passed by full buses, making them late for work or forcing them to wait outside in colder months for up to an hour at a time.
Sheila Greene, another South Boston resident, said the issue of overcrowding stems from a lack of efficient planning surrounding South Boston’s development and population boom over the last decade.
“For five years the MBTA knew there would be an influx of over a thousand people into South Boston, yet you never built an infrastructure around any kind of plan to support these people,” Greene said.
Greene also noted there was no mention of weather-related detour routes in the proposal. During last winter’s heavy snowfall, buses were rerouted in an emergency action plan by the MBTA. Other residents spoke of harsh bus conditions throughout the winter, including un-shoveled sidewalks that made accessibility to buses difficult.
“Winter is a blink away and they haven’t planned this out yet. It’s insane,” Greene said after the meeting. “We have this meeting and they’re not even talking about the #11 bus, which was problematic last year. I don’t get it.”
The #11 is the only bus route that connects the lower part of South Boston to Chinatown and Downtown Crossing, where many residents travel to for work.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, many of the 40 residents present asked if there would be a voting process before the MBTA goes forward with the proposal, but did not receive a clear answer from either De Nisco or members of the MBTA in the audience.
David Carney, the assistant general manager for bus operations and service planning for the MBTA, said he thought the meeting gave the MBTA the chance to educate residents on the issues and constraints faced when developing new transportation plans. However, he stressed that at this time the plan is just a concept and resident feedback will be taken into account.
“This is not something that is cast in concrete,” Carney said. “We will still have another meeting, and where they have comments we will listen. There is a possibility that we could step back from all of this.”
Residents and officials will have another chance to express their ideas and concerns at the next preliminary planning meeting on Sept. 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Tynan School.