The recent cavalcade of bad-news stories involving the MBTA as of late may be leaving some business leaders wondering if the agency has suddenly lost its rudder. 

But plans revealed last week to redraw the agency’s bus network should excite even the most cynical observer – and they hold promise for the real estate industry, as well. 

The new network would replace a mish-mash of routes last edited over 50 years ago in a system that is, in many spots, hardly updated from streetcar lines of a century ago. Lower-frequency and lower-ridership routes are being consolidated into dozens of new corridors that will connect growing job centers like East Watertown and development hot spots like Everett with high-frequency transit. In total 275,000 people will gain access to transit so frequent that they will simply be able to walk up to a bus stop any day of the week between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m. and can trust that a bus will show up very soon. 

While these new lines won’t have the same capacity as a subway or commuter rail train, the frequent and reliable mobility they will bring to areas they serve will create significant new value for real estate projects and existing commercial and multifamily properties nearby. 

Just as impressive, though, is the way T staff plan to implement the redesign. More public feedback will be gathered through the fall to fine-tune the plan, including identifying where the agency can add better infrastructure like bus shelters to make the rider’s experience – particularly all-important transfers from one line to another – pleasant and seamless. Then, changes will be rolled out over five years so riders will experience less disruption and the T has time to hire the additional drivers and build the new infrastructure needed to make the new network function. 

The deep analysis and public engagement MBTA staff put into this project, and the thoughtful, transformative result are truly astounding. They show significant parts of the troubled transit agency have huge reserves of both talent and potential that can’t be ignored even amid recent developments. 

But two big questions loom over this incredible project.  

First, will municipalities give these new lines the roadway space – from bus lanes to queue jumps to shelters – needed to maximize their potential to become near-BRT service? T officials say they have already begun talks with local leaders, many of whom want better transit in their communities. Let’s hope the T and these officials transit-minded constituents are persuasive.

Second, will the looming Federal Transit Administration safety investigation suck needed and resources away from implementation? 

The legislature must step up to backstop the MBTA’s budget before the FTA starts issuing safety directives in a few months, to make sure the $90 million-plus needed to complete this project stays available through the upheaval from the coming transition between gubernatorial administrations and MBTA board members. 

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New T Bus Map a Boon to Boston

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min