Transportation Board: Coolidge Corner jitney to Boston and Cambridge

The Transportation Board held a public hearing on Thursday, September 11, about jitney service between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge, starting at 7:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. Five of the six board members heard from representatives of GroupZoom, operators of the Bridj jitney service, and from members of the public.

A rocky start: The Bridj jitney service was announced in Brookline May 21, when GroupZoom founder and president Matthew George met with the Public Transportation Advisory Committee. Mr. George planned to run commuter buses between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge. Passengers would be able to reserve seats via the Web and board with electronic ticketing operated from cell phones. The first route would be to Kendall Square in Cambridge, he said, where he works.

Mr. George got a temporary permit for the Bridj service from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, and began operations the morning of June 2, picking up passengers on Centre St. At first, it may have been more of a “hit” to the neighborhood than a “hit” with the passengers. The service began with full-size, 54-passenger highway buses operated by Academy Bus, a Braintree charter company.

At a June 25 meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, told the committee that the Centre St. neighborhood was “taken by surprise” around 8 am, when three full-size buses showed up. He and other neighbors complained that they blocked the street, could not navigate narrow cross-streets and were left idling for long times, emitting fumes.

At the June 25 meeting, Mike Izzo, who had been hired as operations manager for Bridj, promised to correct problems and offered telephone and e-mail contacts for anyone experiencing future problems. He said the service was starting to use smaller vehicles.

A state license: On July 8, Mr. Izzo represented Bridj at a Department of Public Utilities hearing, applying for a state license to operate a charter bus service. The Transportation Oversight Division is a non-communicative agency with a useless Web site. Brian E. Cristy, the director, claimed there had never been a reporter at a hearing but relented and let one stay. Your State Open Meeting Law at Work, perhaps.

At the state hearing, Mr. Izzo said GroupZoom was starting to use DPV Transportation as a contractor, operating from McClellan Highway in East Boston. He said the Bridj service would use quarter-size to full-size buses, with capacities of 13 to 54 passengers, and committed to use only state-certified carriers observing federal safety and maintenance standards. GroupZoom has received its state charter-bus license, according to Mr. Izzo.

Adapting the service: At the September 11 Transportation Board hearing, Mr. Izzo said that in Brookline the Bridj service now uses only 9-passenger limousines, operated from East Boston, and no longer uses either large or small buses. GroupZoom is working on jitney permits with Boston, Cambridge and Brookline. Mr. Izzo also said Bridj vehicles no longer use Centre St.

In Brookline, Mr. Izzo said Bridj vehicles now pick up passengers and drop them off on Harvard St. at the bus stops near Beacon St. and Coolidge St. Responding to a question from board member Ali Tali, he said the route out of Brookline is south on Harvard St., east on Longwood Ave., north on St. Paul St. and east on Beacon St. Using limousines, he said, stops are short and have not interfered with MBTA buses.

Linda Jason, representing the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, recounted earlier reviews of the Bridj service and mentioned problems reported in and near Centre St. She said the committee remains concerned about extended idling in winter and summer to provide heating and cooling and would encourage Bridj to explore underutilized parking lots to pick up and drop off passengers.

Mr. Swartz said that disturbances on Centre St. had stopped. He wondered whether Bridj would resume using large buses and resume using Centre St. Mr. Izzo said he did not anticipate using large buses again in Brookline but “will continue to explore sites” for stops. Pamela Zelnick, the board member chairing the hearing, said that other jitney licenses specified the routes and the locations of stops. Mr. Izzo asked for some flexibility.

Outstanding service: Nathaniel Hinchey, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and his spouse Connor both said they are regular Bridj customers, in part because of direct access to the Seaport district. They said service was “awesome” and “fantastic” and contrasted it with slow speeds and frequent breakdowns on the Green Line.

Another Bridj regular, who works in downtown Boston, said service is on-time, vehicles are clean and comfortable, and reserved seats make trips easier. A Bridj customer who identified herself as a “working mom” said the time she saved using Bridj instead of the Green Line was “very important.” Others at the hearing echoed the compliments. Two said they do not own cars. No one had a complaint.

Mr. Izzo said Bridj is currently charging promotional fares: $3.00 each way at peak times and $1.00 off-peak. Last May, Mr. George estimated a regular fare of $6.00 to Kendall Square. Mr. Izzo said the service to Kendall Square has been saving about 30 minutes each way over MBTA travel times, close to 35 minutes that Mr. George estimated last May.

Ms. Jason asked whether a jitney permit would include conditions. Ms. Zelnick replied that conditions would be drafted and said there would be a review by the Transportation Board in October.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 12, 2014

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