Mostly Smooth Rides For the First Full Weekday of Orange Line Closure

a flagger wearing a bright reflective vest stands in the intersection and waves a charter bus through
A flagger directing traffic at the Columbus Avenue and Dartmouth Street intersection gives our shuttle bus preference, making for a smooth turn onto Dartmouth Street as we approached Back Bay station.

This morning was the first full weekday of the month-long Orange Line shutdown, coupled with the Green Line shutdown from Government Center to Union Square. On my way to work downtown, I left my house and tried to make peace with the uncertainty of the commute ahead.

Originally, my plan to reach downtown Boston involved walking to Green Street, and Bluebiking to Forest Hills, where I could catch a commuter rail train to South Station. Forest Hills is the southernmost Orange Line station and is located within Zone 1A – one of the three zones where Commuter Rail is effectively free this month (riders just have to show their CharlieCard or Charlie Pass to the conductor onboard).  

Of course, life gets in the way, and plans have to be adjusted. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the 8:42 a.m. train, and the following train didn’t leave until 30 minutes later, 9:14 a.m., so instead I opted for the shuttle bus replacement from Green Street.

A flagger directing traffic pointed me and another person in the direction of the makeshift bus stop and stopped traffic to let us cross the street – how nice!

a bluebike station with few bikes left outside of a train station on a cloudy day
A mostly empty Bluebikes docking station at Green Street — the second to last stop on the southern part of the Orange Line. Several people wearing bright reflective vests stood outside the station offering their help to anyone who looked even slightly disoriented.

I hadn’t even made it to the stop before our ride pulled up – a large blue bus with yellow letters that spelled “Haymarket” across the side.

a large charter bus next to a sidewalk
An Orange Line replacement shuttle pulls up to the Green Street Stop next to a parking lot along Amory Street.

I climbed the steps into the bus and was greeted with a cheerful “good morning.” I settled into one of the many open seats. “So far so good,” I thought. 

We continued along Amory Street toward Stony Brook where I spotted another Bluebikes station with a dwindling supply of bikes.

bluebike station, stony brook
A mostly cleared out Bluebikes station on Boylston Street outside of Stony Brook station.

“This is Ruggles, watch your step getting off,” said the conductor. We only dropped off one person here and continued on our way toward Copley Square – the last stop on the southern shuttle replacement of the Orange Line.   

As we approached the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Dartmouth Street, flaggers directing traffic gave our shuttle the right-of-way giving us a smooth turn onto Dartmouth Street where cones were set up to block the left hand turning lane; giving the shuttles more space to turn. 

In a press conference last week, Jonathan Gulliver, MassDOT’s Highway Administrator, explained the shuttle buses replacing Orange Line service are different from MBTA buses and thus have a different turning radius, so it was nice to see the cones in action!

“This is Back Bay, changing station for Commuter Rail and Amtrak – watch your step getting off. Have a good day,” announced the conductor. “Next stop, final stop, Copley Square. Change here for the Green Line.” 

Our comfortable, quiet, air-conditioned ride was coming to an end, and it would soon be time to leave our cushy seats behind and transfer to the Green Line for the rest of the trip downtown.     

Once at Copley station, I pulled out my CharlieCard for the first time and tapped it at the fare gate. The Green Line is advertised as one of the Orange Line alternative options in the MBTA’s Rider’s Guide, and is still collecting fares.  

A few minutes later I found myself at Park Street – the last stop on my commute! 

Overall, the trip from Green Street to Park Street took about 30 minutes – not bad! But I think a number of factors influenced how comfortable and smooth the experience felt. These included having the flaggers directing traffic and giving us priority, the conductor’s friendly demeanor, and seemingly low traffic on our route.

At our most “crowded”, only eight passengers were aboard the Orange Line replacement shuttle around 9:00 a.m. This spring and summer, the Orange Line subway carried over 100,000 riders every weekday, so where was everyone else? 

Some riders may have adjusted their work-from-home schedules to avoid the first weekday of the shutdown, but many others seem to have opted for the commuter rail:

As Jeremy Siegel reported, this morning was some passenger’s first time taking the commuter rail:

The commuter rail is effectively free to ride in Boston during the Orange Line shutdown – riders need only show conductors their CharlieCard or monthly pass – and trips take approximately 19 minutes from Oak Grove to North Station and 16 minutes from Forest Hills to North Station, according to the MBTA’s Rider’s Guide to Planning Ahead

The Orange Line is scheduled to reopen September 19th. 

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