MBTA Faces Backlash for Spring Service Cuts

The+MBTA+proposed+the+discontinuation+of+several+bus+routes+essential+to+the+Cambridge+community.

Eman Abdurezak

The MBTA proposed the discontinuation of several bus routes essential to the Cambridge community.

Margaret Unger, Contributing Writer

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) recently announced dramatic service cuts effective March 14th, citing decreased ridership resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Several bus lines were suspended or consolidated, and many other trains and buses experienced service frequency decreases, including routes designated as “key” bus routes by the MBTA. This reduction in service comes as many people begin commuting again for school and work, leaving MBTA riders perplexed and frustrated.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many CRLS students relied on the MBTA to commute to and from school, as Cambridge does not provide school bus transportation for most high schoolers. MBTA’s spring service cuts proposed cutting the 68 bus, a bus frequently occupied by CRLS students that runs from Kendall to Harvard Stations. This is in addition to last year’s suspension of the 72 bus, which ran from West Cambridge to Harvard Station but made a special stop at CRLS on weekday mornings. CRLS student Nila Krishnamurthy ’23, who took an MBTA bus daily when she attended school in-person, commented, “The bus was always packed solely with high school students so it alarms me that [this] is happening because so many kids rely on buses to get to school.”

This reduction in service comes as many people begin commuting again for school and work, leaving MBTA riders perplexed and frustrated.”

During the March 22nd City Council meeting, several counselors expressed concerns about the service cuts. Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development, noted at the meeting that “in our prior conversations with the MBTA, the one thing that they have expressed to us is that they don’t see themselves as a school bus … they do not want to be the entity that is responsible for being a substitute for something that they think school districts should be working on.” 

Facing opposition from the City and Cambridge community, the MBTA restored service on the 68 bus twice daily to accommodate the CRLS schedule. Andrew Reker, Transit Planner and Liaison to the MBTA for the City of Cambridge Community Development Department, told the Register Forum in an email interview that “the city advocated to the MBTA that they restore full service on all suspended bus routes as soon as possible … [including] Route 68 between Kendall and Harvard and Route 72 between Harvard and Aberdeen. These are routes that serve as school transportation to CRLS. The city continues to bring this up to MBTA service planning staff.”

These spring budget cuts reach far beyond students, however. The Red, Orange, and Green Line trains all suffered a 20% drop in service frequency; the Blue line is dropping 5% in frequency. This means that these lines run fewer trips throughout the day, and the time between each trip is lengthened. Bus lines throughout the Greater Boston area are also affected, and back in January, service was reduced on the Commuter Rail and Ferry. The MBTA initially insisted that budget cuts were a necessary consequence of reduced ridership over the past year. While they will receive 250 million dollars in federal aid from the COVID-19 Federal Relief Fund, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak argued that those funds were needed to cover losses and initiate recovery through the MBTA’s long-term capital investment fund. Amidst the controversy, Poftak promised in January that “we have a significant amount of service out there for the riders who are there.”

Following significant backlash from officials across Massachusetts, including the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation and Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey, the MBTA ultimately changed course, pledging to return service to 100% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Massachusetts Representative Mike Connolly further announced that the MBTA will be restoring service on the 68 bus effective June 20th. However, as of April 13th, a date has not been announced publicly for a system-wide restoration of service, and no route has had its service fully reinstated. In the meantime, the communities of Greater Boston wait.