MBTA to hire 750 drivers to implement ‘better bus’ network plan

The MBTA has rolled out a new bus network map that would dramatically increase service and fix unpopular route changes, but it may not have enough drivers to make the plan a reality.

Melissa Dullea, senior director of service planning, said the T needed to hire 750 bus drivers, double its current workforce, over the next five years for the plan to take effect.

“It’s a really huge number,” Dullea said during a press call Thursday. “That’s another reason why it’s spread out over several years, because hiring that volume of operators and all the other support positions is really time consuming.”

MassDOT secretary and CEO Jamey Tesler told MBTA’s board meeting on Thursday that the T was working “incredibly hard” to address its driver shortage, which has led to cuts in service lines. existing buses this fall.

He said the T now recruits bus drivers without a commercial driver’s license and pays the cost of about $4,500 for their CDL training. More of these “bold changes” will be needed, he said, to stay competitive with other transit agencies struggling to hire the same.

“Without operators, we cannot deliver on this promise,” Tesler said.

That promise, the T said, is for a “better bus network” that includes a 25% increase in service and double the number of high-frequency lanes, from 15 to 30, defined as routes where the buses all run. 15 minutes or better, every day, seven days a week.

The new bus network map includes changes to 85 of the 133 routes that were first proposed in May, based on 20,000 public comments submitted.

In Boston, three routes that originally included changes or reductions that Mayor Michelle Wu opposed — 11, 39 and 55 — have either been restored or modified.

Areas like South Boston, Chelsea, Dorchester, Roxbury, Everett, Malden and Lynn will see more frequent service than today, project manager Doug Johnson said.

Johnson said the bus network map was partly designed in response to changing travel patterns that minimize peak periods, which have become more common during the pandemic.

The goal, he said, is to have a system like the metro, where buses run so often that people don’t have to check a schedule. They can just show up.

Board chair Betsy Taylor said the proposal was “wonderful” but was concerned about whether the T could afford it.

Costs to operate the plan are budgeted at $20.38 million for FY2023 and are expected to increase to $123.69 million in FY28, according to MBTA Chief Executive Steve Poftak.

“I would like rough estimates of what these major changes might cost,” Taylor said. “For this to become a reality, we need to be able to afford both operating costs and capital costs.”

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