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Voices: Back Story

A Silver Lining

BY: Bruce Mohl

A BOLD TRANSIT experiment over at Logan International Airport seems to be working.

Starting last June, the MBTA stopped collecting fares from arriving air passengers boarding Silver Line buses at the airport. The change had two positive impacts at Logan:  Passengers could board buses at the airport much more quickly and they could get to South Station and other points on the MBTA system for free. As a result, ridership on Silver Line buses traveling from the airport to Boston is up about 18 percent.

Now it appears the Silver Line shift may have triggered other positive changes. New data indicate a lot more people are riding the Silver Line from South Station to the airport. The uptick in traffic to the airport probably indicates growing acceptance of the Silver Line. But some state transportation officials also think people who fly into Logan and take the Silver Line into Boston for free are finding they like the service enough to pay for it when they travel back to Logan to catch return flights.

T officials say that, since June, the number of riders on Silver Line buses to the airport has increased 70 percent on weekdays to 3,228. On Sundays, ridership is up 38 percent to 2,477. Ridership on the Blue Line, meanwhile, has held steady, suggesting the free Silver Line buses are not siphoning passengers away from the airport subway station.

“Word has been spreading about the convenience and affordability of the MBTA’s innovative bus rapid transit line,” said Joe Pesaturo, the T’s spokesman, who notes the Silver Line is less than eight years old. “Why would anyone pay for parking or a cab when you can take a reliable, frequent, and very affordable public transit service to the airport?”

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, is happy with the Silver Line changes. By allowing Silver Line passengers to dispense with fares and to enter through all doors, boarding times at Logan have dropped and the buses are moving through the airport about two minutes quicker.

“From our perspective, that’s terrific,” said Massport spokesman Matt Brelis. “We have a very space-constrained airport and anything we can do to alleviate curbside congestion is a good thing.”

Massport, which bought the Silver Line buses for the T, has pledged to compensate the transit agency for any financial losses related to the free service. Massport hasn’t paid anything yet because it first wants to obtain clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration. Under federal aviation law, airport revenue can only be used for airport operations.

Massport early last year asked the FAA for guidance on how far it can go in subsidizing Silver Line service, but it withdrew that request recently because the agency is now reviewing options for increasing its financial support for the state’s transportation system. The Patrick administration wants Massport to start coughing up $10 million a year in fiscal 2015, rising to $12 million in fiscal 2021.

Brelis said it made sense to withdraw the earlier Silver Line request and file a more comprehensive document with the FAA. “We might have some additional asks,” he said.

The cover photo has been relased into public domain by its author.
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Says on 02.24.2013
at 9:54 AM
There has been a lot of praising towards the airport silver line lately. I digress. Most people are not aware of how close the airport actually is from South Station; it’s a mere two miles. Much of that distance is traveled through a fast (and expensive) tunnel.

Yet the silver line route is designed in such a way that one has to allow 30 to 45 minutes to get from South Station to the proper airport terminal. That’s largely because shortly after leaving South Station, the bus route comes to the surface road. For the next 15 minutes, it takes all these maddening twist in turns, crawling throughout the seaport district to only pick up or drop off a passenger or two. Next time you are on that bus, 10-15 minutes into your trip, look around, and you’ll realize that you are almost back at South Station! To understand why that is, just look up that route on Google map, by using the “transit” option.

Reducing the length of the route would not only fasten the trip, but it would also greatly increase the frequency (less wait), and make for a much less crowded bus during peak hours. All that could be achieved without adding a single bus to the Silver Line. I am not rich, but I would gladly pay $5 each way for a much more direct and faster route, shaving 15 to 20 minutes of standing up in an overcrowded bus. I suspect most people would do the same. No reasonable person expects free transit. What we expect is efficient transit.

Charging proper fare for a fast commute may also help the T to dig itself up from its financial woes.
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