Aboard the Blue Hill Ave. bus, tales of woe

By 
Alex Owens and Mike Deehan, Reporter Staff
Jul. 9, 2009

Clarissa Hatchel and her son Jaheim think the plan "just might work"Clarissa Hatchel and her son Jaheim think the plan "just might work"

“I pressed the ‘stop,’ don’t cha know, driver!” called a woman from the back of the bus.

Everyone along the MBTA’s Route 28 bus route seems to have a story about the almost hour-long ordeal that is a ride between the line’s terminal stations, Mattapan Square and Ruggles -- from overcrowding to unreliable schedules to missed stops to a strong sense of insecurity.

The Mass. Executive Office of Transit has set out to rectify the long-standing criticisms of the 28 line with its proposed 28X enhancement project, designed to streamline the crowded, often chaotic route. At four community meetings last month, community members voiced concerns about the construction, noise, safety, parking, and the effect of the undertaking on local businesses. The overall sentiment reflected a lack of trust between the community and the T.

Few people who actually ride the bus, at least those who were interviewed by the Reporter at stops and on the bus this week, are aware of the proposed changes to the line or of the public process that has led to the EOT’s decisions.

Funded by $117 million in federal stimulus money, the proposed improvements would have expedited transit with two dedicated bus lanes along the center of Blue Hill Ave. If approved and funded, the project will include new, 60-foot articulated hybrid-diesel buses, new stops with heated shelters, and CharlieCard kiosks.

Debra Haslem, a regular rider, feels that if any money is going to be invested in improving the route, ensuring public safety is as important as reliability. “I don’t feel safe on this bus,” she said, noting that she has seen robberies, drunkenness, and assaults while traveling the route. Added 16-year-old Tiara Amarante, who was returning home from a job interview: “I think that the 28 needs to be more efficient. I’ve missed three 28s that all came at the same time. I had to wait an hour for the next one”

Tiara Amarante: more efficiencyTiara Amarante: more efficiency

The project is only a concept at the moment, but after the series of meetings with community leaders and citizens, the EOT has decided to forego guaranteed stimulus money in favor of an application process in order to ensure more time for negotiations and planning with the community. Those attending the meetings and those who are frequent riders of the 28 expressed similar concerns about the proposal, although the riders were much less skeptical of the proposal than those who spoke up at the meetings. Generally, those interviewed along the route questioned the necessity of such an ambitious project as 28X.

“At a certain time or period of day they should have it. That would work, maybe after 5 o’clock,” said Kenneth Coleman. “It sounds like it just might work,” said Clarissa Hatchel.

Hatchel, like many other riders, proposed more buses and fewer stops on the regular line as an alternative to major construction. “It seems like the buses slack up during certain times, when the kids are going to school, when they’re really needed. Maybe they should have an express line with only two stops, at Ruggles and Mattapan Square.”

Others didn’t like the idea of removing the median along Blue Hill Ave. “They shouldn’t remove the trees. We need more trees around here,” said Will Gallopp, an 18-year-old intern at Beth Israel Medical Center who noted that the street has long been under construction for various public works projects. Added Hatchell: “Blue Hill Ave. is done, finally. Now they have to chop it up again.”

Proposed Mattapan BRT lineProposed Mattapan BRT lineOne former rider of the 28 Route, Gov. Deval Patrick, thinks the project has real merit. During a sitdown on Tuesday with ethnic media reporters, he defended the Silver Line proposal, saying the changes will create “immediate jobs” while allowing that local businesses have some concerns. “As a concept, I think it’s great,” he said, and “I like the convenience.” Patrick said it was a “regular” route to a local barbershop while he was in high school.

UPDATE: A town meeting has been set for Wednesday, July 15 at Prine Hall in Grove Hall for residents of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan to discuss T projects. The meeting is set for 6-8 p.m., 24 Washington Street.

Other Reporter coverage of the Route 28 proposal:
Mattapan bus plan evokes doubts, anger- May 28, 2009

‘Enhanced’ Blue Hill bus line could resemble rapid transit - May 7, 2009