Sunday, May 19, 2024

This is the last week for Cambridge residents, public officials and transit riders to submit comments opposing the MBTA’s plans to drastically cut bus service in the neighborhoods along Concord and Huron avenues.

Many people may not be aware that these cuts have been proposed, since the T is trying to hide its plans. The agency’s proposals to reduce bus service in West Cambridge are lost in the fine print of documents promising “A better bus network: more connections, more service, more frequency.” True, some neighborhoods in the metro area might see more service; but this “bus network redesign” project proposes major service cuts for the West Cambridge area.

According to postings on the T’s website, the West Cambridge neighborhood as a whole would lose half of its current weekday service. The area north of Fresh Pond, along Concord Avenue, would lose 75 percent of its service.

In fairness, an MBTA official claimed in a recent public meeting that the agency isn’t planning to cut service in the neighborhood. But the materials posted on the “Better Bus Project” website indicate quite clearly that these cuts are proposed. Either the materials on the website are inaccurate, or the official’s verbal statements are; in cases such as this, I’ve always been taught to rely on the written materials, not the verbal ones.

This neighborhood is served by three bus routes: the 74, 75, and 78. Here are details of the MBTA’s plans, according to its website:

  • Route 75, which operates from Harvard Square to Belmont Center via Huron Avenue, would essentially see no change in service. This route operates about every half-hour for most of the day on weekdays and Saturdays. On evenings and Sundays, service is every 40 to 45 minutes. The T’s proposal does envision improving Sunday service to every half-hour.
  • Route 74, which operates from Harvard Square to Belmont Center via Concord Avenue, would be eliminated. Like the 75, this route operates about every half-hour for most of the day on weekdays and Saturdays; all those trips would be discontinued. The T’s website doesn’t call for additional service on nearby routes to replace the discontinued trips; indeed, other service would be cut as well.
  • Route 78 operates from Harvard Square to the Arlmont neighborhood on Route 2, at the Arlington–Belmont town line. This route follows Concord Avenue for its entire length in Cambridge, then turns right on Blanchard Road at the Belmont line. It operates about every half-hour on weekdays, and that would be cut to once an hour. Evening and weekend service in now roughly hourly, and would not be changed.

The magnitude of the cuts becomes apparent when you examine how different sections of Cambridge would be affected. Because the three bus lines take different paths through the city, some parts of the neighborhood are now served by two of the routes, and other areas by all three. With two routes cut, the effects will multiply.

Hardest hit will be Concord Avenue between Walden Street and the Belmont line, including the section north of Fresh Pond. This area is served by buses 74 and 78, with weekday “base” service about every 15 minutes. With the 74 eliminated entirely and the 78 service cut in half, the proposed service would be just once an hour. This is the only transit available for a neighborhood that has many medical offices as well as a regional Social Security office. In addition, much new development has been built and proposed here. Instead of transit-oriented development, we’ll build the development, then remove the transit!

The section of Concord Avenue between Harvard and Huron avenues will lose half of its service. This area is served by all three routes, with six buses per hour in the weekday base. The T’s proposal would reduce this to three buses per hour. Since schedules on the different routes can’t be fully coordinated, the current service is about every 15 minutes; under the T’s plan, it would be about every 30 minutes. Either way you look at it, this is a cut of 50 percent. (This also applies to the Vassal Lane neighborhood, where many residents can walk to either Huron or Concord avenues, whichever bus comes next.)

There are unanswered questions about evening service. These buses now run until after midnight, seven days a week, although the exact hour varies by route. Hidden away in the T’s online materials are lines implying that the remaining Route 75 service will end at 10 p.m., and the limited surviving service on Route 78 will end at 7 p.m., five hours earlier than it does today. The document does say that “some routes” might run later than these times, but it provides no further details.

Good transit service – including good bus service in neighborhoods that are far from subway stations – is essential to the city’s stated goal of reducing automobile use and ownership. For medical and other reasons, not everyone can walk or bike. Good bus service brings shoppers to neighborhood businesses in Harvard Square, and it provides a feeder service for people who take the subway into Boston. Most importantly, it gives basic mobility to our community. Take away the bus service and there may be no alternative but to drive a car. Or to simply staying at home.

And when driving becomes the only option, your trips will be diverted away from dense areas such as Cambridge and Boston to suburban areas with unlimited parking.

Nor is it always possible to fit one’s itinerary around infrequent transit service. Leaving home, I can usually plan my departure around the bus schedule (although I may end up way early at my destination). Coming home, my travel is at the mercy of factors beyond my control. A phone call at the end of the workday, a long line at a retail establishment, an extra lab test ordered by my doctor – or even a glitch on the red line – can cause me to miss a bus connection. If the next bus is a few minutes away, that’s not so bad. But if the next bus isn’t for another hour, I’ve got a long wait. Enough of those long waits, and I may rethink whether I want to take transit at all.

Unless you’ve been a regular bus rider, you won’t have a full understanding of how minor changes in bus service can have a significant impact on the feasibility of using transit. And after looking at this proposal, I must wonder if any of the MBTA’s planners have ever needed to rely on the service they want to change.

My family has for years been able to live in our neighborhood without owning a car. But if transit is no longer an option, we will almost certainly have to buy one.

Thus I urge all transit riders in Cambridge, and all city officials (including elected representatives, appointed boards and planning professionals) to vigorously oppose these planned bus cuts.

Comments on the T’s proposals can be submitted online through Sunday. For more details, go to; to submit comments, the website is or email can be sent to [email protected].

Charles Bahne, Reservoir Street