The MBTA says it hopes to break ground in 2024 on a new, entirely indoor bus facility along the Arborway to handle a larger fleet of all battery-powered buses starting in 2027 - which in turn could mean more capacity on currently overloaded routes, such as the 32 along Hyde Park Avenue.
At a public meeting tonight, Scott Hamwey and Alexandra Markiewicz, in charge of the MBTA's bus modernization effort, said the proposed new garage would replace the former MBTA headquarters and "pole yard" along the Arborway and Forest Hills Street.
Once that's completed, the current active bus yard along Washington Street would be turned over to the city, with the idea the land would then be sold for the sort of mixed-use, largely residential development now happening on the other side of Washington. Along the northern side of the property, Lotus Street, currently a dead end off Forest Hills Street, would be extended all the way to Washington Street.
Officials said the new garage, which would have two levels and be about as tall as the residential buildings along Washington, would be built to charge and maintain up to 200 battery-operated buses, to replace all of the 118 CNG buses that now operate out of the Arborway yard. This would include a significant number of 60-foot-long "articulated" buses, of the sort that now run on the 39 route from Forest Hills to Back Bay. Officials said this would allow for greater service along routes in the southern half of Boston and neighboring communities that were typically packed on pre-pandemic days - starting with the 32 route.
Hamwey said the new battery-powered buses will help the T dramatically reduce its carbon emissions in general - the T already has contracts to get its electricity from renewable sources - but in particular in environmentally sensitive neighborhoods in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan. The buses will also cut down on urban noise - they are simply far quieter than today's diesel and CNG buses, he said.
Just the Arborway facility alone would mean that 40% of all the T's bus routes in Boston would be served by battery-powered buses. Hamwey added that drivers on some routes that now begin and end at other garages - notably the 39 and the 28 - would likely begin and end their days at Arborway, instead of at garages in South Boston or Newmarket Square.
Arborway currently handles 118 buses, all 40-foot-long buses. The new garage would have bays designed for servicing the 40-foot buses the T says it would continue to run on routes where bendi-buses can't run or don't have enough demand to justify them, such as the 42 on Washington Street from Forest Hills to Nubian Square.
The buses, at least initially, will not be truly 100% battery operated because they will carry small diesel engines to provide heat and air conditioning on extreme weather days. Hamwey said testing of five battery buses on the Silver Line have shown mileage on really cold days can be cut as much as 50% due to the need to keep the driver and passengers warm. He said other systems in northern cities that already use such buses have similar heating diesels in place, at least pending the development of batteries that can hold more of a charge than today's models.
Hamwey added that while the T is hoping to be able to fully charge buses overnight and during long daytime layovers at the depot, it is already thinking about possible short-term charging stations at certain key locations - he mentioned Nubian, Wolcott and Cleary squares as examples - where bus drivers could "top off" their vehicles on their routes.
Under the rough plans shown at the meeting, buses would mostly enter and depart the new garage from a driveway on the Arborway, although a "secondary" entrance and exit would be built along Lotus Street near Washington Street.
Unlike electric cars, buses would be recharged through an overhead pantograph system:
Officials acknowledged they will have to work with the city and MassDOT on how to most efficiently get buses from the new garage to Forest Hills station. Employees would drive into an underground parking garage via Forest Hills Street. Also, they T won't be able to handle the current eight-acre bus facility over to the city until the new garage is completed, both because it will continue to need to service the current CNG buses and because part of the land will be used for staging of construction for the new garage.
Hamwey said the T started its planning for the new garage based on a memorandum of understanding it signed with the Menino administration in 2001. He acknowledged that agreement called for a new bus facility that would only be used to handle 118 buses.
But in addition to being able to provide more and less polluting service, though, Hamwey said a 200-bus garage will also help the T begin to plan to upgrade its three largest bus facilities - in Charlestown, South Boston and Newmarket Square - by giving it the flexibility to shift bus servicing around when those three garages are eventually rebuilt.
Residents generally praised the proposal. Longtime neighborhood activist Michael Reiskind, involved in the process that led to the 2001 agreement, however, urged the T to create a community process for helping to design the new garage - and to agree to regular meetings with a neighborhood group on any issues that might pop up during operation of the new garage.