Every year there are fewer passengers using public transportation in Massachusetts. At the WRTA, ridership has dropped by about half over the past ten years. This year ridership at the WRTA dropped to around 2/3 of the 2019 levels, yet it has kept more of its riders on board than any other system in the state. Part of this is because fares have been suspended since March. But mostly it’s because the remaining riders have no choice. They have no car. It’s too far to walk to work. It’s too hard to carry the shopping home. Being essential workers (code for underpaid) they certainly can’t afford cabs or rideshares.
We are told, by signs and audio announcements, to keep our distance from each other. The bus company has removed the upholstery from half the seats.
So 50% of the seats are missing, but only 33% of the riders. It’s a game of musical chairs, but this is no game. It’s a pandemic.
If there are over a dozen passengers on a 35 foot bus, or 16 on a 40 footer, social distancing becomes impossible. The drivers have been told to leave people behind, and let them know help is on the way. Then they are supposed to call the dispatcher and let them know what’s happening. Some do, some don’t, and some go ahead and pick up everybody anyway. As for help being on the way, most of those left behind simply have to wait for the next scheduled bus. I have yet to hear of anyone being picked up by special bus, van, or whatever. Our complaints change nothing.
I have seen all these things while riding on the #4,7,11,19,27, and 33. If you know of other routes with this problem, please let us know. Since the WRTA Advisory Board no longer meets regularly, and no longer takes public comments when it does meet, it is likely that they don’t know what is going on. The bus company (Central Mass Transit Management) has whatever data they collect from the drivers and the automatic counters on the buses, so they know something. Dennis Litka, the system director, must know some things as well. and the CMRPC (Central Mass Regional Planning Commission), which recommends schedules and service levels, is aware to the extent that the operation of the system affects federal compliance, whatever that may mean.
The best way for riders to have a place at the table when policy is being made would be to insist that the members of the boards, commissions, companies, committees, and councils, become bus riders themselves. Then they would know the truth.