64 Hours: Closing the Bus Equity Gap

“Investing in our bus system is not just about buying more vehicles or fixing traffic lights or installing bus shelters. It’s about investing in every single person who contributes to our region’s largest mobility system. It means getting a high school student to class and to their after school program on time so they can fulfill their potential. It means guaranteeing that our seniors can get to their doctors’ appointments and don’t have to wait unpredictable amounts of time while they wonder when the next bus will arrive. It means that hourly wage workers are no longer docked pay because their bus didn’t arrive on time. It means respecting our bus operators and maintenance crews by providing them with the resources they need to serve us.”

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Report Foreword 

The MBTA’s bus network serves over one-third of Metro Boston’s transit trips and transports the highest rate of low-income riders across the agency’s services, making it one of the best resources policymakers, planners, and community members have when it comes to connecting residents to life-changing opportunities.

However, the MBTA does not serve all bus riders equally. The MAPC’s 2017 State of Equity Report estimates that Black bus riders spend, on average, 64 more hours per year aboard MBTA buses when compared to their fellow White passengers. Without committing to addressing this service inequity head-on, riders will continue to be underserved by public transit at a crucial moment in our region’s history.

In the past year, we have seen some steps toward a turnaround. Local officials have demonstrated their ability to work hand-in-hand with the MBTA to shorten commute times and boost ridership by implementing bus-only lanes, transit signal priority, and platform-level boarding on city streets in Roslindale, Allston, Cambridge, Watertown, Arlington, Somerville, and Everett. Now is the time to think about how we as a region can accelerate improvements and chart a path forward toward a more accessible, equitable, and reliable transit system on board the bus. Our report, 64 Hours: Closing the Bus Equity Gap, charts a path forward for policymakers and community members throughout the Better Bus Project. 

Read some of our key findings below. You can download the full report here


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POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

To move Metro Boston forward, especially as the MBTA begins to undertake the bus network redesign for the Better Bus Project, we developed the following three recommendations to state and local policymakers:

  • Invest in a bus fleet that reflects Metro Boston’s transit demand.
  • Create planning and service programs that invest in the region’s equity needs.
  • Develop state-municipal partnerships that accelerate transit improvements.

Read the details of our policy recommendations -- Download the full report here


KEY FINDINGS

  • There are several areas within the MBTA service area that could benefit from new service now. We identified the top 15 bus routes serving the highest rates of low-income individuals and people of color. Additionally, we found that several communities like Roxbury, Dorchester, and Lynn that could benefit from additional bus service. 
  • The MBTA doesn’t have enough buses to meet its own service standards today. To meet the transit demands of Metro Boston state officials need to accelerate the purchase of at least 200 more buses and develop two additional garage facilities to store them.
  • A review of similar bus overhaul efforts at peer transit agencies provide the MBTA with valuable lessons how officials can redefine bus service quickly and equitably in order to grow transit ridership in a meaningful way. King County Metro’s social equity score approach provides the best planning model for how the MBTA can expand bus service while investing in reversing disparities.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Spread the word -- Take part in the conversation on social media using these hashtags: #BetterBuses #64Hours #BusEquityNow
  • Amplify the report -- Massachusetts lawmakers have the ultimate say over MBTA funding and policy. Share the report with your legislators and ask them to support #BusEquityNow through the Transportation Bond Bill. 
  • Volunteer with LivableStreets as a Street Ambassador to engage bus riders and build public support for a bus priority pilot. Sign up here or contact kristiana@livablestreets.info to learn more about this unique opportunity to influence how people move around Metro Boston.