Young rider gives MBTA board an earful

Email|Print| Text size + By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / March 7, 2008

The 17-year-old youth in braces and painter's pants strode to the podium yesterday, smiled into the television cameras, and told the MBTA how to fix its bus service.

The adults who run the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, who have been trying to solve problems of reliability and crime on the buses for years, listened.

As Stuart Spina told the MBTA board some of the talking points from his exhaustive nine-month report yesterday, General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas nodded his head in approval.

Boston city councilor Charles C. Yancey went further, calling for a public hearing in part to address safety issues raised in a Boston Globe article this week about a group of teenagers who have been chronicling safety problems on Bus 23. Yancey also wanted to address reports in the Boston Herald about unannounced reductions in service.

After the meeting, the MBTA sent out a press release detailing upcoming service improvements, including 155 new buses coming later this month and a stepped-up inspection program intended to prevent breakdowns.

Transit advocates are eager to promote young people as the fresh voice of beleaguered riders. The T Riders Union, which counts Spina as an active member, set up the press conference to release his report before yesterday's MBTA board meeting. Five adults stood behind him, holding a Riders Union banner and a sign. The union threatened a boycott if the T raises fares, something managers have not ruled out in 2010.

Spina has memorized all the bus lines, created an e-mail address with a reference to public transit history, and earned the trust of T managers for his analysis, which included interviews with riders, drivers, dispatchers, and inspectors. He has examined the schedules, clocked the bus times, and tracked when the buses cluster together in bunches.

"I'd heard so much about the bus system," said Spina, a West Roxbury resident who attends the Commonwealth School. "I'd experienced it myself, late buses, crowded buses. . . . Surprisingly, the drivers and inspectors are under just as much stress."

He cited snowed-in bus stops and schedules that promise a 25-minute trip will take only 6 minutes.

"There are people who will wait 20 minutes for a bus on a hot day or the freezing cold," he said.

Spina's recommendations include documented notations about fleet sizes, stations, garages, and headway, transit jargon for the time interval between buses. Among them:

  • Require dispatchers to use new satellite tracking better, so that when two or three buses are bunched together, dispatchers can order the trailing bus to wait a few minutes to avoid gaps in service.

  • Adjust the schedule on routes 1, 15, 22, 23, 28, 39, 44, 45, and 66 to allow late-running buses to get back on schedule when congestion is heavy.

  • Operate larger accordion-style buses on routes 22 and 28 during rush hour to avoid crowding. Spina has identified six spares in the Southampton Street Bus Garage.

  • Operate the same number of buses in the afternoon rush hour as in the morning.

    Spina has become an active member of the T Riders Union, which plans to post his report on its website.

    Grabauskas said he is eager to meet with Spina, go over the report, and show him the T's operations center.

    Noah Bierman can be reached at

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