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MBTA Board Updates: Bus Service Cuts Won’t Be Reversed ‘Til Summer

Riders protest the elimination of the MBTA’s Route 55 bus on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Photo courtesy of Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok.

The MBTA now admits that it has plenty of funding to reverse the service cuts that took effect earlier this month, but its management says that staffing shortages will prevent the agency from restoring lost bus service until this summer.

At a meeting of the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) on Monday, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak announced that the T expected to receive about $845 million in relief funding from the American Rescue Plan legislation, which was enacted at the beginning of March.

New budget estimates project that the relief funding will be more than enough to cover the T's projected budget shortfalls for the next two years, even if ridership remains low.

"Funding is not the constraint right now to building back service," said Poftak.

Instead, a shortage of drivers and increased absenteeism associated with the pandemic has now become the main limiting factor preventing the MBTA from reversing the service cuts that took effect earlier this month.

"I do want to emphasize that the MBTA has not laid anyone off or furloughed anyone," Poftak told the board, "but we have not had hiring classes (for new bus and rail operators) for a number of months, and now we need to play catch-up."

When FMCB members pressed for a specific timeline for restoring service, Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville said that "we are planning on bringing some routes back come this summer."

"Obviously I'm incredibly frustrated by this," said FMCB Vice-Chair Monica G. Tibbits-Nutt. "It does seem like we are treating (the bus) as a second-class service."

Orange Line Derailment Remains Under Investigation

Bus shuttles have replaced the Orange Line from Malden to Sullivan Square in the wake of a March 16 derailment that sent one of the T's new Orange Line trains off the rails.

On March 15, the T started diverting inbound and outboard Orange Line onto a single shared track near Wellington station in order to accommodate planned track work.

On the morning of Tuesday, March 16, one of the T's new Orange Line trains derailed while it was traversing an older switch on that diversion route.

In response, the T pulled all of the new Orange and Red Line trains out of service, and also suspended all subway service in the track work area, replacing the Orange Line with bus shuttles north of Sullivan station.

Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville told the FMCB that the scope of track work near Wellington has also expanded to replace the aging switch and other rails in the vicinity of the derailment. The additional work will add two more weeks to the Orange Line closure, now scheduled to last until April 11.

According to Gonneville, the train that derailed, car 1401, was one of the first new Orange Line trains to carry passengers in the summer of 2019.

"We really want to look to determine and ensure that this vehicle's subsystems and components are all functioning the way we believe they were designed to function, or that they're wearing to a condition that's consistent with the way they were designed," said Gonneville.

Until the T is certain that the new train was functioning as expected, the new Orange and Red Line trains will remain out of service.

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