An Update On Buses And Trains

An Update On Buses And Trains
by David A. Mittell, Jr.

     From 1888 to 1928, the Plymouth and Brockton Street Railway was faithful to its name. With its own power plant near Plymouth Rock it ran electric street cars over a dirt road that would become Route 27; and through Kingston and Plymouth and over the first Sagamore Bridge (a low draw bridge), to Sagamore.
     In 1928, the trolleys were replaced with buses. In 1961, the P & B took over most of Almeida bus line's Cape Cod routes; other than buses to Logan Airport, the service we know today was in place. Through it all the company has been family-owned, profitable and largely unsubsidized. It prospered after the loss of computer trains in 1959, and adjusted to their return – which it did not oppose politically.
     This summer has seen something fairly rare in the company's history – complaints. A company spokesman explains that over the weekend of Aug. 1 to 3, a few runs had to be canceled for a lack of drivers. Despite good wages and union representation, qualified drivers have been hard to find.
The P & B accepted five new buses under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These were provided with the stipulation that the company create new service. Twice-a-day runs between Plymouth and Providence went into service on July 14. The company can no longer boast that the government pays no part of the cost of a ticket. But it is a small percentage, and year-in, year-out the service (which I use) is nearly always dependable. (From this rider's perspective the lack of information when a bus has been delayed or cancelled is a bigger nuisance than being delayed.)
     I also use the publicly run commuter trains, whose management was recently turned over to Keolis North America, a French company. The new operator deserves a short period of grace to establish effective management of employees whose unions have been operating the trains since the days of private carriers.
     Trains offer a more pleasant ride than buses and have the unique capacity to zip 700 passengers through rush-hour traffic at 70 mph. On a recent run to Boston, the public address system was announcing stations after the train had departed, and no one was present whose job it was to fix the problem. That is a job for a management whose grace with the public is quickly going to run out.
The larger problem with the trains since their return in 1997 is that no operator has coordinated scheduling, pricing, parking and marketing in a way that attracted the ridership the service was built to handle. Red Sox fans and theatre-goers have to leave early to catch the last train. Families riding into town on weekends have had no consistently-marketed group rates. Parking at stations costs too much, and lots are half-filled – the main purpose of restored service thus voided.
     Then, in July 2012, weekend service to Plymouth/Kingston and Greenbush was cancelled. At the moment a return of weekend service is at a matter of mystery. Local legislators got funding for it put into the 2015 budget, and Governor Patrick did not veto the item. But no announcement has been made. The MBTA reports that "details and logistics are being worked out." It may be a political matter only to be settled in time for the election.
     That a major tourist and vacation destination would not have weekend trains 17 years after restoration of service is absurd. Business and the environmental community are unanimous on that! But the push for leadership may have to come from us, the people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I also use the publicly run commuter trains, whose management was recently turned over to Keolis North America, a French company. The new operator deserves a short period of grace to establish effective management of employees whose unions have been operating the trains since the days of private carriers.
Trains offer a more pleasant ride than buses and have the unique capacity to zip 700 passengers through rush-hour traffic at 70 mph. On a recent run to Boston, the public address system was announcing stations after the train had departed, and no one was present whose job it was to fix the problem. That is a job for a management whose grace with the public is quickly going to run out.
The larger problem with the trains since their return in 1997 is that no operator has coordinated scheduling, pricing, parking and marketing in a way that attracted the ridership the service was built to handle. Red Sox fans and theatre-goers have to leave early to catch the last train. Families riding into town on weekends have had no consistently-marketed group rates. Parking at stations costs too much, and lots are half-filled – the main purpose of restored service thus voided.
Then, in July 2012, weekend service to Plymouth/Kingston and Greenbush was cancelled. At the moment a return of weekend service is at a matter of mystery. Local legislators got funding for it put into the 2015 budget, and Governor Patrick did not veto the item. But no announcement has been made. The MBTA reports that "details and logistics are being worked out." It may be a political matter only to be settled in time for the election.
That a major tourist and vacation destination would not have weekend trains 17 years after restoration of service is absurd. Business and the environmental community are unanimous on that! But the push for leadership may have to come from us, the people.

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