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LONG WAIT FOR WORKING TRANSIT

MATTAPAN'S TROLLEY, BUSES AND COMMUTER RAIL STOPS ARE GETTING AN UPGRADE AFTER YEARS OF WAITING

By Cassie McGrath – Reporter, Boston Business Journal

Aug 16, 2023

Editor's Note: This is the latest in our On Main Street series of stories on small-business issues in our local neighborhoods. Here's an explanation of the thinking behind the series. Scroll down to see previous stories in this series.



Growing up in Mattapan, Shavel’le Olivier recalls standing on a bridge with her sister, gesturing for the commuter rail conductor to honk as they drove by. But the train never stopped in that part of the city.

“We never were ever able to get on it,” said Olivier, now executive director of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition.

In 2019, Mattapan finally got two stops on the Commuter Rail's Fairmont Line, at Blue Hill Avenue and Morton Street. It was one of the biggest improvements Mattapan has seen to public transit in decades, and Olivier credits the advocacy of her community.

Several more changes to public transportation are coming to Mattapan soon, including upgrades to existing stops, an overhaul of the Mattapan Trolley and schedule changes to make buses more frequent.

That's important, because similar to other communities of color around the U.S., Mattapan's public transit has suffered over the years. Recent studies show that Black and African-American residents represent 74% of Mattapan's population, compared to 23% for the city overall.

Mattapan

  • Median income: $44,071

  • Poverty rate: 6.9%

  • Percent non-white: 98%

  • Percent foreign-born: 32%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Jarred Johnson, executive director of Transit Matters, said that the new changes follow years of underinvestment in the neighborhood.

“The state has to do a much better job of writing these wrongs and really put in significant investment," he said. "Mattapan was not prioritized for a long time."

Mattapan Trolley

For 80 years, the Mattapan Trolley has carried passengers between Ashmont and Mattapan in colorful, vintage cars. But while the trolleys have sentimental value to some Bostonians, their functionality has been questioned for years.

When there's more than six inches of snow, the trolleys shut down, forcing the MBTA to shuttle its 6,600 daily riders. To fix the trains, the MBTA must order parts from museums—the trolleys are so old the equipment isn't made anymore.

But change is finally on the horizon. The MBTA is planning an overhaul of the Mattapan Line's infrastructure. The stations will get renovated, and platforms will be elevated 14 inches, so that someone with a wheelchair or someone with a stroller can easily board the train.

The trolley cars will also be replaced by Type 9 vehicles currently used on the Green Line. These trains were installed in 2020, and they are much more reliable and accessible, according to AJ Tanner, senior project manager at the MBTA.

“The benefits are going to be much more reliable accessibility, which is huge,” said Johnson of Transit Matters.




Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters

GARY HIGGINS / BOSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

The project will cost at least $114.5 million. It was originally funded back in 2019, but was delayed during the pandemic. The MBTA is now in the design phase, and a timeline isn't expected until the end of the year.

In the meantime, the MBTA has invested $12.2 million into refurbishing the trolleys, with new motors, interiors and exteriors.

Improving Blue Hill Avenue

Johnson said the introduction of the Blue Hill Avenue stop has been “really, really important," but the station needs improved access. The MBTA is now redesigning the stop, having begun in 2019. The project was revived in 2021 when the city was awarded a $15 million RAISE Grant from the federal government.

The T recognized that in its current state, the section of Blue Hill Avenue between Grove Hall and Mattapan Square is hard to navigate. The T, along with the city, is now putting in new bus and bike lanes, improving crosswalks and sidewalks, adding bus shelters and more.

Buses along Blue Hill Avenue are some of the most heavily used in the whole system. Each weekday, 37,000 people get on and off buses there. However, these riders lose about 3,000 hours to delays each weekday, according to the T.

“Today, if you're traveling from say Mattapan Square up to Grove Hall on the 28 bus in some of the worst of traffic, it can be as much as 45 minutes. That's only three miles,” said Andrew McFarland, project manager at the MBTA. “We estimate that if we put in these bus lanes and make other improvements to the corridor, that trip should take about 15 minutes and it would be much more reliable.”

Bus network redesign

The Blue Hill Avenue project is happening in tandem with a bus network redesign at the MBTA. A vision document for this project was approved in December, and is designed to boost bus service by 25% across the whole system, including buses in Mattapan.

“On Blue Hill Avenue, where people are able to ride the bus, you don't even need to check the schedule. You just can show up,” said Melissa Dullea, director of service planning for operations planning, schedule and strategy at the MBTA.



The Mattapan Orange line trolley terminal and bus station where passengers can head to their destinations.

GARY HIGGINS / BOSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

The project would also extend the 28 bus so it wouldn’t terminate at Ruggles, and instead would take people directly to the Longwood Medical Area or to Kenmore Square, Dullea said.

“Longwood is probably one of the biggest things that we're excited about in the bus network redesign, because it's one of the fastest growing employment districts in Boston, and it's just historically not well-served by transit,” she said.

The MBTA's new contract for workers should make it easier to hire and increase bus service, said Dullea.

"It takes hundreds more bus operators, and it had been extremely challenging to get the bus operators we needed when we were paying $22.21 for starting bus drivers,” Dullea said. “Now that's going to be $30.55. So we think it'll be much easier for us to tackle the bus driver shortage.”

How good transit helps

Allan Zarembski, a professor and director of the Railway Engineering and Safety Program at the University of Delaware, said there are increasing efforts in cities to improve public transit in disadvantaged communities.

“At the moment,” he said, “it's a very high priority issue,”

Accessible public transportation can be a life-saver for people, whether it be to travel to a doctor's appointment, to school, jobs, internship opportunities, or to simply to see a friend.





Shavel'le Olivier, executive director of Mattapan Food and Fitness at the Mattapan Orange line trolley terminal.

GARY HIGGINS / BOSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

Olivier, of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, agrees that “transportation just intersects with all of our quality of life and everything that we need to do in order to live." She said that “it needs to be accessible for everyone to be able to utilize it if they don't have the privilege of being able to afford a car.”

Wesley Edwards, acting chief of operations planning, scheduling, and strategy at the MBTA, said that the T is now meeting with Mattapan residents to learn more about what locals need.

“What the community is like and the community wants in those areas has been a guiding star for our staff on improving the transportation infrastructure,” he said.

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