Piloting Bus Rapid Transit in Boston

For the past two weeks, MAPC employees have been assisting with an exciting bus rapid transit (BRT) pilot on the Silver Line. From May 22 to June 6, two staff members stood by the Temple Place bus stop outside our downtown offices every day, informing commuters and casual riders of the two-week pilot, which was designed to see if elements of BRT could speed up bus travel times and reduce delay. This pilot project was spearheaded by BostonBRT, an initiative supported by the Barr Foundation.

BRT is a system used throughout the world that is designed to improve travel times and rider experience over traditional bus systems. These systems usually include elements such as dedicated bus lanes with signal priority (meaning the light turns green when the bus arrives at an intersection or traffic signal), intersection treatments that allow for more efficient bus travel, off-board fare collection, enclosed stations, and platform-level boarding (making it quicker and easier for wheelchairs, baby strollers, and riders with disabilities to board). These five elements constitute Gold Standard BRT, the highest standard of bus rapid transit. BostonBRT is exploring the feasibility of implementing Gold Standard BRT in Boston. Currently, there are no gold standard systems in the United States, although some cities have silver or bronze designations.

During the Silver Line Pilot, BostonBRT was mainly testing out how off-board fare collection and all-door boarding would affect transit times on the Silver Line’s SL4 and SL5 lines.

In other systems, off-board fare collection is achieved by passengers buying tickets at kiosks, prepayment online, having places to pay at all bus doors, or collecting fares at the entrance to an enclosed station. These methods can be paired with heavy fines for fare evaders. During the pilot, passengers boarded through all doors and didn’t have to pay fares on the SL4 and SL5 lines.

Since passengers din’t have to pay at the front of the bus for all-door boarding, there were fewer lines and buses idled for a shorter amount of time at the stop. According to BostonBRT, two-thirds of the delay on the SL4 and SL5 lines is due to front door-only boarding. When passengers boarded through all doors and didn’t have to stop to pay or swipe their Charlie Cards, boarding took seconds instead of minutes.

To see the process in action, check out this video that StreetFilms made about the pilot:

 Our staff members assisted with the pilot by directing passengers to board through all doors, informing them that they didn’t have to pay, and soliciting feedback and distributing surveys to collect information on the rider experience.




The purpose of the pilot was to test how much time all-door boarding could save on these lines and to survey riders’ reactions to all-door boarding and BRT. The SL4 and SL5 routes were chosen because they have higher ridership than most and have documented delay related to boarding, and because the Silver Line already includes short sections of other BRT elements: dedicated bus lanes and transit signal priority.

Now that the demonstration is over, BostonBRT, MassDOT, the MBTA, and the City of Boston will share the data to help plan future efforts and evaluate the effectiveness of BRT in Boston. Keep an eye on BostonBRT for updates!