Local leaders are raising concerns about reliability and accessibility for riders after state officials announced that the entire MBTA Orange Line will shut down for 30 days in August and September and will be replaced by shuttle buses as the embattled agency works to update its infrastructure and perform key maintenance.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who has previously called for "drastic action" on the T, said that she hopes to see the difficulties now turn into progress long term.
"The truth is we’ve been past the point of small fixes for the T for years at this point, and you can ask any commuter - I’m an orange line rider myself. We deserve more than a daily experience that has baked in the feeling of your body tensing up when you get to the station because there’s going to be some unspecified amount of delays or hearing the speaker come on the intercom and realizing it’s going to be an unpredicted 10 or 15-minute stopover while some issue is fixed, or some of the much more horrific incidents we’ve seen more and more frequently in recent weeks even," she said Wednesday. "I’m hopeful that doing this work thoroughly, doing it in one stretch and getting it done now will mean that we are saving years of disruptions in the long run."
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Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said his city was working to ensure that commuters and students could still reach their destinations during this unprecedented closure.
"This shutdown will without a doubt negatively impact our community especially our residents who depend on the Orange Line to get to and from work and for our students returning to school. I have already met with our team to see if we can do anything to help the situation which includes utilizing the commuter rail to offset the disruption," he wrote in a statement.
He added that he believes the MBTA needs to focus on routine maintenance of existing lines over new projects.
Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne echoed concerns about the need for reliable options while the work takes place.
"We all know the Orange Line urgently needs repairs, so it's good to see them start this work, but the MBTA must also ensure Orange Line users can still easily get where they need to go. The T is a lifeline for many of our residents that gets them to work, healthcare, school, and more. They shouldn't have to suffer a repeat of the problems we've seen recently during other T closures," she wrote in a statement.
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Those sentiments were echoed by Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) Interim Director Josh Ostroff, who said they hope to see major improvements come out of the shutdown, to make it worth the difficulties to riders.
"The MBTA must have a shutdown mitigation plan that matches the commitment that we are asking from riders. It must include free service across all alternative options for Orange Line riders, including shuttle buses and commuter rail at impacted stations, reduced pricing across the system, unprecedented bus priority on local streets, and frequent public updates," he wrote in part.
Rick Dimino, president & CEO for A Better City, also released a statement.
Today's MBTA announcement to shut down of one of the most traveled and transit-dependent corridors in the city and region comes at a time when concerns about safety, reliability, and lack of trust are at an all-time high. During the first two weeks of September the public, workers, and thousands of students are coming back to Greater Boston. This is a time to encourage transit use, not shut down a vital rapid transit line. As an alternative, the T should consider taking advantage of the month of August for a full shut down to complete FTA emergency work and then proceed with extended night and weekend work in September to address lower priority upgrades," he wrote in part. He added that the T needs to offer alternatives that includes the discounted fares and free shuttles mentioned by others, and also pointed to free Blue Bikes as an option for some.
"We need to hear more from Governor Baker and the T on additional alternative travel options for people who rely on the T, because right now, this plan is insufficient and incomplete. While the work is necessary, due to the lack of planning and mitigation measures, its impact can be unnecessarily brutal for both riders and our region," he added.
The Orange Line runs from Oak Grove Station at Washington Street and Winter Street in Malden through downtown Boston to Forest Hills Station at Washington Street and Hyde Park Avenue in Jamaica Plain. It serves an estimated 200,000 people each weekday, according to the MBTA.
This closure is the longest service diversion of an entire line in the agency's history, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.
The MBTA has been facing public scrutiny and a federal investigation after multiple safety incidents.
The Federal Transit Administration has been investigating the agency for months, in response to some of the more serious incidents. In April, Robinson Lalin got his arm stuck in the door of a Red Line and was dragged to his death last month. A fire on an Orange Line train forced passengers to evacuate onto a bridge last month.
An early report from that FTA investigation noted four immediate issues it called on the MBTA to address. Then, after multiple incidents of runaway trains, the FTA ordered the agency not to allow workers who have not been briefed on safety to move trains.