'Rapid Response Bus Lanes' Program Provides Equitable Mobility Relief During the Pandemic

A new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority program has quickly deployed bus infrastructure around the Boston area, focusing on neighborhoods where people are relying on the bus during the pandemic.

2 minute read

November 6, 2020, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Boston Bus

Gerard Donnelly / Flickr

Cinnamon Janzer reports on the Rapid Response Bus Lanes program launched by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), adding 14 miles of dedicated bus lanes in four regional municipalities (Boston, Chelsea, Somerville, and Everett).

"The 'Rapid Response' program can create new bus lanes, from planning to implementation, in roughly four months. That’s slightly faster than the average six to eight month time that the agency and its partner municipalities have been able to lay down lanes in the past," explains Janzer.

The program is offered as a benefit to riders impacted by reduced bus capacities and reduced service schedules during the pandemic—and specifically to provide efficient bus service to essential workers during the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, low-income neighborhoods of color around Boston have held steady with ridership on public transit, while bus routes usually filled with high-wage earners heading downtown have been empty. The Rapid Response program was specifically designed to deliver first where ridership was likely to be durable during the pandemic, according to Janzer.   

"To add an equity lens, [Eric] Burkman and [Melissa Duellea’s] teams used equity data from the Livable Streets Alliance and mapped that to the Rapid Response plans they were devising. This was used to 'truth check to make sure we weren’t accidentally being inequitable in our implementation,' Burkman says, as 'Boston region [riders] tend to be more people of color and primarily of lower incomes,'" writes Janzer.

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