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Home Travel Cambridge installed MBTA bus bench backward, sparking complaints

Cambridge installed MBTA bus bench backward, sparking complaints

by Staff

If the bus pulls up to the curb right to where the stop is marked by a pole, riders have to shimmy their way between the back of the bench and the bus to make it to the door.

Oops, said the city.

Cambridge spokesperson Jeremy Warnick says the Cambridge transportation department plans to relocate the bench so that it faces the street with its back near the hedge once there’s a break in winter storms.

“The person executing this from a marking perspective misunderstood,” Warnick said. “It was mistakenly marked.”

Some other backward-facing bus stop benches in Cambridge are not mistakes, though, Warnick said. The city installed them that way on purpose in Inman Square because of “space constraints,” he said. There, some benches sit right up against plexiglass between the bench and the street.

The best bus stops are the ones that most closely resemble train stations, featuring shelter, heat, seating, and countdown clocks telling riders how long they have to wait. And then there are those with only a pole to indicate where the bus will show up — who knows when. That was the Mt. Auburn Street stop before the bench.

How bus stop amenities get installed and where they get installed is a bit of a patchwork process. Cities control curbs and sidewalks, while the MBTA controls the bus service.

Bus shelters may be owned by municipalities, the MBTA, or private vendors. The MBTA has bus stop design guidelines that recommend parameters for installing amenities, including prioritizing stops with more than 50 average weekday boardings and stops that serve seniors and people with disabilities.

Of the more than 7,000 bus stops along MBTA routes, only 713 had shelters to protect riders from the snow, rain, wind, and heat, according to MBTA bus stop data provided to the Globe in response to a records request last year. Of those 713 shelters, just 94 were owned by the T, the data show.

MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the exact number of sheltered bus stops and MBTA-owned shelters may have shifted since the agency performed a more thorough audit last year. He said that the T has now confirmed it owns at least 207 shelters.

Few bus stops have seating. According to MBTA data, only 124 bus stops had some kind of seating, and 101 of those benches were marked as in “good” or “excellent” condition. Pesaturo said that the seating data dates back to 2017 and also may have shifted.

The MBTA plans to install more bus shelters, benches, and more interactive digital information kiosks with real-time service information, maps, and trip planning this year, Pesaturo said, with the goal of providing “a safe and dignified place to wait” and improving the bus stop experience. Priority will be given to locations with high ridership and service for transit-dependent populations, said Pesaturo. The agency also welcomes bus stop amenities provided by municipalities or third-party developers as long as they meet accessibility requirements.

The MBTA is planning to implement a long-delayed improvement to its bus service in January 2025 that the agency says will increase the number of scheduled trips by 25 percent over several years.

This winter, there are 14 percent fewer bus trips scheduled than in the winter of 2020, before the pandemic, according to data provided by Pesaturo.

There was just a sole rider boarding at the Cambridge bus stop with the backward bench during about an hourlong stretch Monday morning. She declined to give her name — but said she hadn’t noticed that it was facing the wrong way.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her @taydolven.

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