Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The silver line is not really bus rapid transit. There are stretches of “exclusive” and “dedicated” transit lanes, but they account for just a portion of the buses’ trips, leaving the line vulnerable to bad traffic just like any other city bus. (Photo: conbon33)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site MainStreet.com ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about holiday travel. But …

Since I’ve no traveling to do in the next few weeks, I’m going to miss out on Boston’s Logan International Airport during the holidays, as well as on Manchester Boston Regional Airport, the Boston airport that’s 54 miles from Boston.

I know that in many areas people have to drive for hours to get to the nearest airport, so I shouldn’t be snarky. Manchester Boston Regional is a good alternative for those willing to drive up to New Hampshire for a flight. But in these parts, being willing to make the drive and being able to are different. To get to Manchester Boston Regional you’d need a taxi, limousine, charter or Greyhound bus, a rental car or shared van. The vans can cost up to $175 per trip, even if you drive up with other passengers.

Logan, though, is fairly easily reached by public transit. The blue line shuttle or silver line bus will get you there for $2 or less, and in less time.

It was always nice taking the T to the airport, even though living on the red line meant switching lines twice to get to the blue, then transferring to the final shuttle bus that circled the terminals. Things got even better with the silver line, since that meant skipping those middle two switches.

But you know what would be great? Taking the T straight to the airport — an underground rail line with stops in each terminal, free from worries of traffic or weather. Plenty of U.S. and international airports do it. Not Boston, though.

The city and its transportation officials have a tendency to prioritizes buses instead of rail, and for years they’ve been doing it in ways that leave commuters and communities feeling burned. They took away Jamaica Plain’s green line trolley service but didn’t put it back, for instance, and still proclaim ignorance as to how anyone could possibly have thought the silver line was to be rail, just because it’s named just like the city’s red, orange, blue and green lines and appears on maps with those lines on every T car. Technically those maps show the city’s “rapid transit,” not subway lines, but the silver line is not really bus rapid transit. While MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera cites the silver line’s stretches of “exclusive” and “dedicated” transit lanes, they account for just a portion of the buses’ trips. They’re vulnerable to bad traffic just like any other city bus.

The silver line also has “branding, transit features such as stations, shelters, larger vehicles, etc. that are more typically found on rail transit services,” she says, but none of these features add to travel speed. And they should be standard on all buses, not artificially restricted to a single line to make it seem so special that it’s, well, almost like taking the T.

So why did the city create a bus line that went to the airport instead of bringing rail there?

The decision was based on cost and difficulty, she says, but that’s an odd thought for the home of the Big Dig. Touted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as “the largest, most complex and technologically challenging highway project in the history of the United States,” the project to move Boston’s traffic underground (where subways go) dragged on for more than two decades and cost $15 billion. It’s the most expensive public works project in U.S. history.

I’m still pleased to have the airport transit options I do. But I’m also pleased I don’t have to use them, or Logan, anytime soon.