MBTA’s Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is impressive and efficient, but could be easier to use for visitors.
I recently flew to Boston for the first time in years and had the opportunity to ride their Silver Line BRT that provides service between Boston Logan Airport and south Boston. The service features some dedicated right-of-way, real-time arrival signage and a few actual stations.
The Silver Line has real-time arrival screens at Boston Logan, easing the wait time for customers excited to explore a city or return home. The buses used are dual-power, meaning they run on electricity via overhead wires at some times and on diesel when there are no wires. The switching between the two takes a few minutes but it really wasn’t very noticeable.
I was very impressed with the stations. For example, the World Trade Center station is a significant and impressive structure, and felt more like a traditional rail station that a bus stop by far. It features a multi-story tower topped with the “T” logo. The station interior features side platforms, escalators and stairs, real-time arrival screens and public art. A station like this makes a statement that high quality transit service will be operating here for a long time, despite not having rails in the ground.
One interesting feature of this service is that it is free to board the bus at Logan, which means that visitors do not need to experience the potential hassle of purchasing Charlie Cards or Tickets. But this leaves customers with no pass or ticket to return to the airport. I spent some time in downtown Boston looking for a venue to purchase a Charlie Card (like Metro’s SmarTrip® card, to add to my super-nerdy, fare-media collection) and couldn’t find any place that sold them.
Another confusion with the Silver Line is that it dropped me off at the curb in Boston directly in front of an official Silver Line station. For my return to the airport, I didn’t know that the station existed at first, and nearly waited on the curb for the bus that likely would have only taken me in the opposite direction.
Once I figured out the Silver Line station was an actual, full-service station, I walked in and looked to purchase my fare. Oddly enough, the ticket vending machines weren’t configured for single-trip tickets, and I had to purchase a Charlie Ticket (similar to Metro’s paper farecards) with a $5 value for a BRT fare of $2.65. Just in time to leave Boston and not use it ever again. I would have been glad to purchase a Charlie Card (which enables discounted fares) at the airport pre-loaded with round-trip value.
In general, my experience with the Silver Line was a positive one. It got me where I wanted to go quickly and efficiently, and I appreciate that Boston chose to invest in BRT, which is less expensive than streetcar or light-rail but has more economic development potential than traditional bus service.
What BRT systems have you ridden? What features of BRT would you like to see in the DC region?