# Fixing the 70 Bus (at least part of it)

I posted about a year ago about the 70 bus, with its bizarre schedule and uneven headways between Waltham and Boston. I have a friend who has taken the 70 daily for a decade, outbound in the morning and inbound in the evening. And she’s not alone. After another discussion about the uneven headways, poor schedule adherence and endemic bunching, I decided to ask her (and some of her friends) to keep track of scheduling and crowding. That spreadsheet is growing. If you take the 70, I’m happy to have you help out.

I’m particularly interested in crowding, because it seems the MBTA, in the afternoon, has taken the initiative to have even outbound headways (a laudable goal; morning inbound could use some help, too), but pay no attention to inbound traffic. They may assume that because it runs from Cambridge towards Waltham, everyone takes it in that direction. And plenty do. But plenty also use it for the “reverse” commute; my friend regularly shares the bus with 50 or 60 of her closest friends. The corridor is growing; she reports the bus is getting busier. It needs to be scheduled to provide service to this area, lest potential customers vote with their feet and drive instead.

If you look at the afternoon inbound schedule (part of it is shown to the right), it is scheduled to have bus bunching. There are 16 buses departing Watertown Square between 4 pm and 7 pm, on average, one every 11 minutes. However, twelve of these buses are scheduled to come in pairs, three minutes apart or less. So in reality there is only service 10 times during those three hours, or once every 18 minutes. That’s a big difference. To put it in a math-ier way, the current schedule has an 11 minute headway with a standard deviation of 9:25. That’s not good. (The goal, with even headways, should be zero.)

With some complex routing schemes, buses come in to a route from one line and leave the other end on to another. But the 70 extends out to the edge of the system, and a bus at the end of a line had little choice other than to turn around and run back to Cambridge. It’s particularly complex with three separate termini—Cedarwood, the North Waltham figure-8 (the 70A) and several short turns in Waltham Square—but it’s pretty easy to reverse-engineer the schedule and figure out which outbound bus runs inbound, and how much schedule recovery each bus has. By doing this, we can see whether it might be possible to make some small changes to the schedule in order to have buses scheduled at more regular intervals and provide better service overall. Right now, with the T out of space for new buses, we can’t really add service. But we can certainly make the service we have run better.

 Scheduled times in Watertown Square.

So here’s my proposal: by slightly changing two early departures out of Cambridge (in the 3:00 range) and changing layover times by no more than five minutes (and leaving at least 7 minutes for schedule recovery at the Waltham end of the route) we can go from 11 minutes with a standard deviation of 9:25 to the same 11 minute average headway, but with a standard deviation of 2:45. The longest current headway is 23 minutes, with five headways over 20 minutes, and the current shortest headway is 0 minutes (two buses scheduled at the same time). The proposed schedule has all headways between 7 and 17 minutes. They’re not perfectly even, but they’re a whole lot better.

Take a look at the conditional formatting to the right. Muted, middle colors are less variable. Right now, the schedule seems optimized for even layover times at the expense of even headways. So a bus is somewhat more likely to leave on time, but then scheduled to be part of a bunch. The proposed schedule varies the layover times somewhat more (stdev of 2:19 vs 3:02), but it is far less variable for headways. Note how all the dark blue and bright red colors disappear from the chart on the right, and while there is some variability, there is far less than the current schedule. This means that buses aren’t scheduled to run in groups of two, and there are no longer scheduled 20-25 minute service gaps (which, with traffic fluctuations, can easily turn in to waits of half an hour or more, on a route which, nominally, has a bus every 10 to 12 minutes).

The T needs to analyze the patronage of the route, and make sure that they aren’t robbing Peter to pay Paul. Service reliability for normal peak ridership is very important, but it should not come at such a great expense to reverse peak riders. They constitute a large percentage of the passengers on the route—likely higher than many other comparable MBTA routes—and the T should balance the needs of all passengers, not just create a schedule which works for one direction at the expense of the other.

This afternoon, I watched the 70 on Nextbus as buses bunched—some as scheduled and some on their own. The schedule for the 70A in particular does not seem to have enough time for all buses on the route, and the figure-8 service pattern in North Waltham is pretty special. The 70 is a very complex route and in the long run the right answer is probably to cleave off the 70A and operate the route as a single route to alleviate bizarre headways and bunching. But in the short term, a few minor changes could be made for the next schedule rating, which would alleviate some of the problems experienced by riders today.

For the reference of current passengers, here’s an afternoon schedule which shows the originating point of various buses. Note that Waltham buses are likely more timely than Cedarwood buses, and both are more reliable than the 70A from North Waltham. Note that both this schedule and the one below are sorted by Watertown inbound, so the outbound trips are not in order. (If you’re going outbound, it’s basically a bus every 10 minutes at rush hour, inbound, it’s a bit more difficult to comprehend)

And here is the proposed schedule, with changes highlighted (and the number of minutes the layover is changed shown as well). It should be entirely feasible to implement this schedule, making very minor changes to the early part of the pre-evening rush outbound, and dramatically improving conditions for riders in the evening coming inbound.

# Electrifying Fairmount would be cheaper than buying DMUs

I spent a few days in Colorado for a wedding and (shocker) rode the transit system there quite a bit. Oh, I hiked and trail ran, too. I didn’t take a train trip, but did ride a variety of buses (including the spectacular N route up and down Boulder Canyon), but I did wander around Denver some, and was witness to the spectacular new Union Station project. It has a eight-track rail terminal (two pairs of three-track high-level platforms and two low-level platforms for long distance service) and a connected underground bus terminal which has access to nearby HOV lanes. And dozens of cranes erecting buildings around it.

 The N bus goes up and down a 10% grade through Boulder Canyon. It’s a beautiful ride, although it must be one of the more difficult routes to drive. A friend said that during a snowstorm drivers have asked passengers to move to the back of the bus to increase traction.

Most impressive? The rail terminal is fully electrified. When Denver’s Commuter Rail lines begin service next year, they’ll be operated fully under the wire, with the same electrification (25kV 50 Hz AC) that Amtrak runs between Boston and New Haven. And they are planning to operate high quality service: some of the most frequent Commuter Rail in the country, with 15 minute headways all day on some lines, and never worse than 30 minutes between trains. Only a few lines in the country (in the New York area) can boast that kind of frequency.

This is not the typical newly-built Commuter Rail built in the US. That would be what you get in Minneapolis, Nashville, Dallas or Seattle: moderately-frequent service at rush hour superimposed on a freight railroad and little service at other times. Legacy systems tend to do better, but the MBTA’s service leans towards the latter, especially outside of rush hours, when most lines have service gaps as long as 2 hours (or in some cases, longer).

 Denver’s Union Station terminal is particularly impressive.

There’s one MBTA commuter line in particular which could use more frequency: the Fairmount Line. Unlike most of the Commuter Rail lines, it doesn’t stretch far in to the suburbs, passing through town centers, park-and-rides, and marshes and swamps. It has no four-plus mile gaps between stations, some of which are parking lots far from where anyone lives, with few riders off-peak. Instead, it serves a dense part of Boston with stations every mile, or in some cases, even more closely spaced. It should be run like a subway—like Denver is planning—yet it runs about as inefficiently as possible: service only operates once per hour, and that service is operated with a push-pull engine-and-coaches set-up which is suited far better to service Fitchburg, Middleboro or Rockport.

The T’s solution? It was to purchase diesel multiple units (DMUs) until the governor shelved that proposal (and quite possibly rightfully so). One potential reason? The projected cost for 30 of the vehicles was \$240 million, or \$8 million per car. DMUs are relatively unproven in the stringently regulated US railroad environment (although they have more success in Europe) and the cost for such vehicles would be very, very high. That leaves aside the fact that DMUs are best used for low-volume, longer-distance services. Anywhere which has frequent service and closely-spaced stations is better served by electric service (as Denver decided). Yes, the up-front, in-the-ground infrastructure costs more, but the operation costs are much lower, to say nothing of noise and local pollution reduction. And with off-the-shelf rolling stock (which is much cheaper) and an electrification system partially in place, it winds up being much less expensive overall.

The Fairmount Line is the perfect candidate for electrification. It is perhaps the most perfect candidate of any diesel line in the US outside of Chicago and San Francisco (where planning is in place to electrify Caltrain). It is only 9 miles long, and the final mile in to the terminal is already electrified (this would be by far the most expensive piece to run wire, but it’s already there). It has, in those nine miles, eight stops, meaning that the much faster acceleration afforded by electric propulsion pays dividends in travel time savings. It serves a corridor which could easily support trains every 15 minutes (especially if they were better integrated in to the rest of the system), with high population densities and accessible stations. Parallel subway and bus lines are over capacity, and it serves a poorly-served region which currently relies on slow-moving, crowded buses. And best of all, both ends of the line are adjacent to existing electrification—the northernmost mile is already under the wire!—so it would not need to be built as a stand-alone system, but would be integrated in to the existing electrification.

 Even with initial infrastructure costs, it’s quite possible that EMU service on the Fairmount Line would be no more  expensive than DMUs. The significant upside, however, in  procuring off-the-shelf technology,  is a lower chance of cost overruns.

Then there are the costs. Electrifying existing rail is not very expensive: generally in the range of \$5 to \$10 million per mile (Caltrain’s costs, which are built to also allow high speed rail to operate, are \$18 million per mile). Since this wouldn’t be built from scratch—since it can tie in to existing electrification—costs should be in the low part of this range. Let’s say it does cost \$10 million per mile for the 8 as-yet unelectrified miles: that’s an initial cost of \$80 million.

But then, instead of buying expensive, unproven DMUs, you can buy off-the-shelf electric multiple units, or EMUs. How off the shelf? Philadelphia and Denver both are running Silverliner V cars; in Denver’s case, on the same electrification system we have in Boston. On the basis of power and clearances, it is quite possible you could roll a Denver EMU in to South Station and run it up and down the Providence Line tomorrow (signal issues notwithstanding). Philadelphia placed an order for 120 cars for \$274 million: a per-unit cost of \$2.28 million. Even if Boston doesn’t get quite the same volume discount, 30 EMU units would, at \$3 million each (the approximate cost of Denver’s units), cost \$90 million. (2016 update: More-reliable M8s Connecticut just bought cost in the \$4 million range, but include both third rail shoes and pantographs, which likely inflate cost somewhat.) Even with the initial investment in electrification, the total cost would be \$170 million, 30% cheaper than that many DMUs! Even if a maintenance shop were needed (and Readville, adjacent to the end of the line, would be well situated for it), it would still come out cheaper. In the short term, heavy maintenance could be contracted out to MetroNorth’s New Haven shops, and cars towed down the line as need be. Even at \$4 million—the average cost of DMUs produced today for other systems—the EMUs plus the wire would come out even.

An EMU is basically an oversized subway car: it’s built for faster speeds and is heavier since it is in the FRA’s domain, but otherwise has traction motors, a pantograph and a drivetrain. So it should cost about the same as (or a bit more than) a subway car, and indeed it does. The MBTA’s procurement of Red and Orange line cars comes in at about \$2 million per car, so \$3 million is in the ballpark. M8s or Silverliners cost more, since they are larger and faster vehicles, but not that much more, because rather than having to be designed for the specific specifications of Boston’s subway lines, they can be built to exactly the same specs as Denver or Philadelphia (although maybe we don’t want those) and shipped out the door.

 An EMU can accelerate much more quickly, spend more time at top speed, and save several minutes of operation time each trip.

Then there are the benefits. First, electric trains are quieter. A lot quieter. Second, they don’t need to be kept running overnight to keep from freezing up. Third, they have far less local particulate pollution (and if renewables are used for power, they are much cleaner overall), important for the environmental justice communities the line serves. And finally, they accelerate faster. A lot faster. The rail cars being used in Sonoma and Marin counties are spec’ed for 1.6 miles per hour per second (mphps) to start, and just 0.7 mphps at 30 mph. (This is much like an MBTA diesel-hauled train.) The Silverliners? 3 mphps to 50 mph, and then declining to 2 mphps at 100 mph. In other words: to reach 30 mph, it takes a DMU 31 seconds; to reach 50 mph, it takes 1:15. A Silverliner can reach those same speeds in 13 and 24 seconds, respectively.

This means faster trip times, and operational savings. While a DMU train can cover the distance between Newmarket and Readville in 15 minutes, an EMU can cover that same distance in 12.5 minutes, even with the same top speed limit of 60 mph. With faster acceleration, the EMU spends a lot more time at that top speed, rather than chugging its way towards it (and with dynamic braking, it can also brake more quickly and efficiently). These time savings can either be put in to more frequent service, or more recovery time and fewer delays.

EMUs could also be used on the Providence Line, where the higher speeds—SEPTA’s Silverliners operate at 100 mph on the Northeast Corridor, the M8s have a similar top speed—would allow shorter, speedier and more reliable trips between Providence and Boston. Here’s a video of a Silverliner on the Northeast Corridor north of Philadelphia. It’s not accelerating at full bore, but still makes it to 50 mph within about 25 seconds and 80 mph within a minute (note the hard-to-see phone speedometer in the lower left). Thus in two minutes, from a dead stop, it covers 2.5 miles with an average speed of 75 mph. Electrified service on the Providence line would reduce run times by 25 to 33%—15 to 20 minutes—faster between Boston and Providence (depending on stopping patterns), dramatically reducing operating costs and allowing more service to run in the corridor, and attracting more passengers to boot.

In the longer run, it would start the T down the worthy path of electrification. In addition to Fairmount, 13 additional miles of wire would fully electrify the Stoughton and Needham lines, both of which use the already-electrified Northeast Corridor for part of their runs. Franklin would be a next best bet; a third of the 32 mile line already operates under the wire. Thus, for 42 miles of overhead—an investment in the range \$200 to \$400 million (plus another \$50 to \$100 for high level platforms)—the T could do away with inefficient diesel service on four of its commuter rail lines, which would serve as a springboard towards the future electrification of the rest of the system. The cost savings alone would likely tally to millions of dollars per year.

It is silly to run diesel service under a wire. While MARC, in Maryland, is moving away from electrics, it is really beyond explanation. Part of it may be that they are charged high rates for electricity by Amtrak, which owns the wire and track. The T, which owns the tracks, has a better negotiating position with Amtrak for electricity prices. But MARC is bucking the trend: most non-electric commuter railroads are moving towards overhead power. All-electric SEPTA is buying new electric motors as well as EMUs, Denver has started all-electric, Caltrain is moving towards electric operation, and Toronto is as well for its sprawling system.

Running Fairmount under a wire would make more sense than any of these systems. With DMUs delayed, the MBTA—which has long since had a distinct allergy to modern equipment in general and electrification in particular—needs to take a good, hard look at its cost and operational benefits of electric propulsion. It makes sense not only from an operational, pollution and environmental justice standpoint, but from a financial standpoint as well. Electric operation has long been anathema for the MBTA. But it makes operational and financial sense. It should be seriously considered.

# Digging deeper in to Belmont costs

I posted on the very high costs that are driving the poor planning process for the Waverley and Belmont Commuter Rail stations. I’ve now found the slides from the T’s presentation here. Of particular note is page 17, which details costs for the project:

Now let’s take a look at some of these numbers. I’m not sure what General Conditions or General Requirements are, although if they’re so general, I’m not sure why the are higher for the longer platform.

Structural-01 Platform: \$5.5 million for the platforms? That’s way too high. Remember, Uphams Corner, Morton Street and South Acton were all rebuilt for between \$6.5 and \$9 million, with full high levels, and ramps or elevators, landscaping, systems and all else. The cost for the platforms alone—and I’m interpreting this from recent T bid documents—is in the \$2 to \$3 million range. So there’s \$2.5 to \$3.5 in savings.

Structural-02 Stairs Ramps: Somehow, the ramps and stairs to get to a full-length platform cost \$1.5 million more than the access to a mini-high. This makes no sense at all. Since a high platform is higher, and you’re accessing it from above, you need fewer stairs and a shorter ramp, so it should cost less.

Structural-03 Elevators: If you have ramps, you don’t need elevators. The Fairmount line gets by just fine with ramps and stairs, most of which are just as long as such a facility would require at Waverley or Belmont. There’s another \$4.3 million saved. (Not to mention lifecycle costs of outdoor elevators.)

Systems: Again, I’m not sure why the systems for a longer platform would cost double the systems for a shorter one. Do you somehow not need lighting and such for the low part of the platform?

Site work, safety controls, track work: These are all relatively small items, but probably all inflated.

Then there are two big ones: Construction Expenses and Professional Services. Each of these, for a full-length, high-level platform, would cost about as much as the entire cost of the full-length, high-level platform stations built in South Acton, Uphams Corner or Morton Street. Each of them—combined, they cost double! It should not cost \$7 million to for professional services to plan and engineer a high level platform, nor should it cost that much to construct it.

Good lord, at \$100 per hour, that’s 70,000 hours—8 person-years, round-the-clock—of work. At 40 hours per week (2000 hours per year), this is enough to pay for a team of 35 people to work on the project for a year to design it. That doesn’t make a lick of sense. A full rebuild of Mass Ave in Arlington costs \$7 million, but each of these items is \$7 million alone, and the set of platforms is nearly as much, with the entire project four times as much? For 1600 feet of platforms, a couple of ramps and some stairs? Come on. These numbers are, as is all too common in Massachusetts, a misuse of taxpayer money, a giveaway to consultants in the place of good planning and cost controls.

How do these costs compare to other cities? Not well. In the Philadelphia area, SEPTA has rebuilt many of their Commuter Rail (well, “Regional Rail”) stations with high level platforms. They are somewhat shorter, in the 500 to 600 foot range, but the costs are much lower—in line with what the T spent along the Fairmount Line. For instance, the Fort Washington station was rebuilt for \$6 million, including ramps, platforms and a station structure. Not \$30 million. \$6 million.

Which, of course, is right in the ballpark for what similar station upgrades have cost in Boston. Maybe Waverley will cost more if it is integrated with future development. But \$30 million for a single station is so far outside the envelope of reality that it must be questioned.

Here’s a quick (and by quick, I mean half an hour quick) sketch of what you could conceivably do with the Waverley Station. This is no more complex than any of the rebuilds on the Fairmount Line, and less complex than South Acton, so it should have costs in line with those projects (\$6-\$10 million):

This would not interact with any of the retaining walls, which the T claims ratchet up the costs, and would avoid the slight curve and superelevation at the current station site for level boarding. Both ramps would be about 300 feet long—the same length of ramps at similar stations on the Fairmount Line. A small taking would be required from the parking lot of the car wash to the north of the rail right-of-way and east of Trapelo Road. You don’t need four elevators for this. You need some concrete. And some actual thinking.

# MBTA’s Belmont cost estimates are way out of line

Belmont might be getting a new Commuter Rail station. This is not a good thing. Why? Because the T is proposing to create a new parking-oriented station which is within walking distance of far fewer customers than the current stations, and then close those stations.

Really.

In 2012, the MBTA performed enough maintenance on the platforms at Waverley Square that it required them to bring the station in to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities act. The problem? The station was built in 1952 when the grade separation there was built (the second-to-last of the B&M’s grade separation investments; Winchester was the last) and is in a deep trench, with 20 feet of steps separating the railroad from the roadway.

Now, if a sensible organization were in charge, they’d spec a new station at Waverley accessed by ramps from the street above, full-length, high-level platforms, and build a new station. On the south (inbound) side, there is plenty of room for a ramp from street level to the platform (especially since with a four-foot-high platform, you only need to descend 20 feet). The width of the south side of the station is about 200 feet, so it’s a single-zig ramp to get up and down with about three landings on each. The right-of-way, which held three tracks until the grade separation, is 100 feet wide, so the north side (outbound) platform could be accessed by a ramp to the east of the station to a rebuilt platform, with the current stairwell providing access from the narrow part of the triangle. Alternatively, platforms could be moved to the east of the station where the line is straighter, and the current station area used for vertical circulation.

In Belmont Center, the solution is easier. It would be hard to build new platforms at the current station location, which is located on a curve and would necessitate a Yawkey-style double-platform solution: a costly endeavor. However, just east of station the tracks straighten out and the right-of-way is 84 feet wide, plenty for a pair of platforms and two tracks. The north side of the station would be accessible with a ramp in place of a short staircase and a short ramp to a high level platform, which could be build to the east of the current platform. The south side would require a longer series of ramps, probably just east of the station. But again, this is not insurmountable.

But what does the T want to do? The T wants to close both stops and build a new station in between. This new station would be within walking distance of fewer residents, and much further from the downtown employment areas at Belmont and Waverley (as well as McLean Hospital, the largest employer in the town). It would have a parking lot, so a lot of people who currently walk to the train station would have to drive. It would sever connections between the bus lines which serve Belmont and Waverley and the train station. (Do you live in Waltham and work at Mount Auburn Hospital? Say goodbye to your rail-bus commute, you’ll have to take the train in to Porter, the Red Line to Harvard, and the bus out.)

Does this make any sense? If you’re a Belmont resident, it does not. Apparently, if you’re the MBTA, it does.

Here is a quick table of the current stations and their catchment areas (defined as the total population of all census blocks all of part of which are within 0.5 miles of the station location):

Belmont (current): 4311
Waverley (current): 7452
Proposed location: 7019

So not only does the proposed location serve far fewer residents than the current two stations, it actually serves fewer residents than the currently Waverley Square station!

How does the T justify this farce of a plan? The same way the justified killing the Red-Blue connector: by wildly inflating the cost of the plan they don’t want (bringing the current stations in to compliance) and giving few if any details about the costs of what they want to build. Their estimated cost for rebuilding each of the Belmont stations? \$35 million (well, they’ve now come down to \$16 to \$30 million). Their number for a new station? They can’t say, but think it will be less. This is so entirely disingenuous it knocks my socks off.

Let’s look at some data to see how far off these numbers are, looking at some recent station construction for MBTA stations with full, high-level platforms and note whether it was a rebuild or a new station and the type of vertical circulation:

Yawkey Station (Worcester Line), 2014: \$13.5 million
Existing station. built on a curve, in a narrow corridor, required track realignment, and elevators.

Boston Landing (Worcester Line), 2016, \$20 million
New Station, ramps

Newmarket Station (Fairmount Line), 2013, \$12.3 million
New Station, ramps.

Uphams Corner (Fairmount Line), 2007, \$7 million
Existing station, ramps.

Four Corners/Geneva (Fairmount Line), 2013, \$17.7 million
New station, ramps.

Talbot Ave (Fairmount Line), 2013, \$15.9 million
New station, project cost included a new bridge, ramps.

Morton Street (Fairmount Line), 2006, \$6.5 million
Existing station, ramps.

Blue Hill Ave (Fairmount Line), 2017, \$10 million
New station, center platform, ramps.

South Acton (Fitchburg Line), 2015, \$9.6 million
Existing station, elevators. The T is willing to flat-out lie about the construction costs by including land acquisition costs, which are not an issue for either station here, considering the 100-foot right-of-way.

Littleton (Fitchburg Line), 2014, \$8 million
Existing station, center platform ramps.

So let’s review. Existing stations upgraded to full high level platforms built in the last 10 years have ranged in cost from \$6.5 million to \$13.5 million, with an average cost of \$8.9 million. New stations built with full high levels have ranged from \$10 million to \$20 million, with an average cost of \$15.1 million (the ones with elevators cost more, and elevators have higher maintenance costs). So the T is being disingenuous in two dimensions. First, upgrading the two existing stations, based on these averages, would cost only slightly more than building a new station. And secondly, recent experience shows the price would be nowhere near \$35 million dollars for each station. Not even in the ballpark!

In fact, the T’s own planning documents admit this and quotes a cost of \$15–\$18 million for stations with side platforms (double the cost of recent station rebuilds, but still nowhere near the \$35 million figure) and \$22–\$30 for (new) center platform stations (based on the cost of the Boston Landing station, although Blue Hill Ave is center platform and half the cost of Boston Landing). So while this planning document inflates the cost of upgrading stations, it still doesn’t get it to the \$35 million level. And the claims that new stations cost more than rebuilding existing stations are just wrong.

Now, the T will claim that the new station is needed because the current stations are underutilized. This is hokum. The current stations are underutilized for two very good reasons: frequency and fare policy. First, frequency:

Inbound:
Waverley: 9 departures, 3 peak, 2 reverse commute, 4 off-peak
Belmont: 14 departures, 4 peak, 2 reverse commute, 8 off-peak
Outbound:
Waverley: 12 departures, 4 peak,  2 reverse commute, 6 off-peak
Belmont: 13 departures, 4 peak, 2 reverse commute, 7 off-peak

If you’re in Waverley and you don’t need to get to North Station at a very specific time, it’s better to take the 73 bus to Harvard and the Red Line. The 19 minute travel time is half of the bus-subway route, but it only runs once an hour. In Belmont, you have a few more choices and fewer buses, but there’s still no frequency. Schedules are uneven, and some midday trains skip the stations. Departures should be rationalized once the line has full double-tracking, but the stations won’t attract more passenger without more service. Building a different station won’t help.

Then there’s the fares. A trip on the bus and subway from Belmont to downtown costs you \$2.10, or \$75 for a monthly pass. A train ticket? That comes at \$5.75, or \$182 for the month, nearly triple the cost. This is a longer discussion about T fare policy, but it doesn’t help drive ridership in Belmont. Still, neither is an argument to build a station which will serve fewer people. (And, no, a new station won’t be an express stop: the “super express” from South Acton doesn’t even stop at Waltham.)

So what’s going on here? I’m not sure if it’s a question of incompetence or something more nefarious. But it seems to be in line with a lot of what goes on with a lot of Massachusetts infrastructure projects: create an agenda (single station in Belmont), create a plan that is unpalatable to the community (less access, more traffic) and make up costs so that your agenda compares so favorably that it is the only logical option. Then advance it far enough that it’s illogical to turn back. We saw this with Red-Blue connector, which has cost estimates the Globe has called “deliberately high.” We’ve seen it in Allston, where this page has argued that the state is pursuing a far more expensive plan by being immovable on project guidelines and refusing to fully vet better alternatives (although there is some progress being made). Unfortunately, this Belmont “plan” fits the pattern all too well.

What should we do? Contact your legislator, especially if you live in or near Belmont. Go to meetings. Raise your voice. And let the T know that they can’t get away with further degrading Commuter Rail service by making up numbers.

Part 2 takes a deeper look at these numbers, and finds them to be no less made up.