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MBTA talks up new Arborway garage for larger fleet of battery-operated buses; plans call for eight acres to be used for housing

Proposed new Arborway yard

Proposed Arborway map; current bus depot would be given to city for housing.

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:

Overhead pantograph charging 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.

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Boston's own underground river, Stony Brook, runs between the current active facility and where the new building would go. T officials said building atop its culvert, or even moving it, would present its own set of challenges, and so they decided to try to build as much as they could right up to the side of the culvert.

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Voting closed 19

I remember going with my Dad to the building in the 70s and 80s because the MBTA Employee Credit Union was in the building there.

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Voting closed 11

How many parking spaces is this development going to have. Please no comments unless you plan on living here.

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Voting closed 11

Right now, there are just two blobs on a map. No details on how many units, what configuration, how many stories, how many affordable units, no nothing. That could be because we're several years away from the T actually handing over the land let alone the city and developers deciding what to to put there.

So hold that thought for a bit ...

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How many travel lanes should this redesign have. Please no comments unless you plan on living here.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Voting closed 27

I do live near here and my opinion is that the less parking the better. Devote the space and money to housing people instead of cars. There’s obviously buses and a T stop right there.

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I haven't owned a car in Boston since I moved here more than 15 years ago.

I'd be happy to live in the new building without a personal car, and increasingly developers are including car share for residents in their plans. So we don't even need to go get a Zipcar when we need one.

How about you, anon? Are you sharing cars with your neighbors and riding a bike or taking the bus 99% of the time, like I do?

If not, then your behavior = Boston's traffic and parking problem.

This housing pre-proposal is not the problem.

Happier still if all the free street parking was removed and bus and bike lanes put in their place!

Good day neighbor!

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Voting closed 13

Trolley busses as far as I am aware don't need diesel for heating, and don't need to lay over to charge up, meaning less busses needed to be purchased for similar service levels.

The T already has them anyway on the 71&73 so why not just do more of those? They seem to work just fine, and it would not be as risky as testing out battery electric busses. Let other cities be guinea pigs.

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hates wires apparently so much that they want to test the battery buses on the 71&73 rather than run under wire

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...as the T's inability to maintain overhead trolley wire. It's not like the technology is new or anything.

Spending some time in San Francisco or Seattle quickly demonstrates that they are not lumbering and slow and unable to keep up with traffic. The T just thinks it's too hard to maintain the OHW to proper standards to allow them to function.

I seriously worry about the reliability problems of straight battery buses, to the point that what's being pitched as the ability to increase service (by way of housing more buses) won't actually materialize. The fleet increase at Arborway (118 to 200 buses) or North Cambridge (28 to 40 buses) will be eaten up by the fact that buses can't stay on the road all day.

Just put wires up on the main trunks already...New Flyer has the in-motion charging buses ready to go:

https://www.newflyer.com/bus/xcelsior-trolley/

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Voting closed 28

Those overhead wires really get people grumbling. Why wouldn't we trust that the MBTA has made the right decision, knee jerk T hating aside? I don't doubt that maintaining the wires can be done, but intuitively it makes sense to switch to batteries because all that overhead wire is infrastructure that needs to be constantly maintained by a skilled crew. Battery powered buses certainly seem like a simpler solution that also follows the market trend of more EVs on the road (ie ease of maintenance).

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Well, a few key points:

Trolley buses with in-motion charging can effectively remain in service all day without returning to garages or other charging locations. They charge while operating under wired sections of routes, then operate for ~20 miles off wire. Often battery buses have a hard time operating for even a full operator shift, let alone a full service day. ETBs can easily remain "on the road" indefinitely...or for the 18-20 hours needed for the T's service day.

The need to cycle buses back to be charged may result in the T needing more buses to provide the same level of service. No current battery bus is going to be able to operate for 20 hours straight.

Heating in winter takes a huge toll on range - which the T is proposing to overcome by using diesel fueled heaters on their battery buses, while hoping that the issue will be resolved down the road. Since trolley buses spend much of their day under wire, they don't suffer this issue.

Reducing the need for rapid charging allows the T to ease the peak electrical demands. Opportunity chargers at terminal points will pull a lot of electric load very quickly, versus a slower, steadier charge while operating under wire. Also, Smaller batteries mean lighter buses, less wear and tear on roads.

The T has a lot of areas where several bus routes operate on the same streets - these long, combined trunks are ideal locations for trolley bus wire, while they can then go off-wire for the outer ends of routes where they branch off.

There's a lot more out there, including the fact that the T is grossly overstating overhead maintenance costs. TransitMatters has done a lot of work on this: https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/mbta-has-a-bad-plan-for-electri...

I've lived about half of my 25 years in Boston near the 71 & 73. Except for a few spots, the trolleybus overhead is less noticeable than the utility lines. I know there's a few people who great really worked up about them, but never met any of them in real life.

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Voting closed 15

Part of the MBTA's thinking appears to be more standardization and support of fewer technologies.

I don't think anyone is advocating expansion of trolley buses, so it would remain a niche technology in the system, which would take resources away from the primary, battery powered systems, and could be more difficult to maintain and service.

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I appreciate your reply. You clearly know what you're talking about and have given this serious thought. I've learned something to boot. Thank you.

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I was a long-time rider of the 71 and 73 when I worked in Watertown, and each time the MBTA has tried to (or suggested) they get rid of the wires on Mt. Auburn St, Belmont St and Trapelo Road, the residents and politicians over there attempted to sue to keep them. (Route 72 has not returned to trolleybus service since they began construction on Huron Avenue back in 2013.)

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Aren't the CNG buses at Arborway? Are they going away?

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Sorry if I didn't make that clear. The plan is to replace them all with battery-powered buses and then some (118 CNG buses would be replaced by 200 battery buses).

That's why the T has to get the garage up and running by 2028 - which is the current scheduled end of life for the CNG buses.

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It would be wonderful to have more buses- but aren't they having trouble finding drivers for the ones that they have?

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Give the drivers a pay raise. Take money from the state police to do it since bus drivers are underpaid and cops are overpaid.

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Groundbreaking in 2024, needed for operations in 2027.

If we can't figure out how to hire more bus drivers in the next 3-6 years, we might as well declare ourselves a failed state.

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Nice plan. I wonder why MBTA is giving the land to the city to develop, instead of developing it itself and getting a durable revenue stream like transit agencies overseas often do?

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The MBTA is already in too many places better served by separate agencies.

Perhaps if the T had a history of housing development management that would be different but now is not the time to enter that business.

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What places is the MBTA "in" that isn't related to public transportation for the Boston metro area? Why shouldn't the MBTA employ strategies that make public transit much more successful in other locations around the world?

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Electric buses are the wave of the future but I would like the T to start small by getting rid of their police force's fleet of gas guzzling SUV's and replacing them with electric vehicles.

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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.

I remember the days. Will it be another 20 years until it's actually built?

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Hoping to see a TJ's or something of that sort go into the mixed use development zones. Need more groceries in this area!

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