BURLINGTON – The B-Line, a Burlington Public Transit service, is no longer an adequate transportation service for residents and is expected to be replaced by a pilot ride sharing program.
At a recent Board of Selectmen meeting, Department of Public Works (DPW) Director John Sanchez and Council on Aging (COA) Director Marge McDonald disclosed the B-Line service has been discontinued, as a result of the sinking ridership numbers making it impossible to continue the transportation services it provided for many years.
“We know it is vital to those that do use [the B-Line], so the town has been exploring options to meet their needs,” explained Town Administrator Paul Sagarino. “The B-Line will continue through June 30, 2020.”
Sanchez and McDonald have worked diligently on finding the right route to pursue, and ended up with a modern strategy perfect for the 21st century. After pursuing capital and operating grants, a federal operating grant has been accepted which will pay for ½ a year of the initiative the town wants to move forward with.
The initiative being pursued pertains to subsidizing rides on Uber, Lyft, and taxi services.
“Other towns are doing it,” declared McDonald, noting they worked with Bedford and Lexington town officials on this initiative. “It is the way of the future. People do not want MassTransit anymore. They want to take [their ride] whenever they feel like going, not when the state or community says so.”
The plan is to wait on an update from the federal government on the operating grant, while moving forward with a pilot program to “work out the kinks” before the initiative is fully implemented. The remaining funds from the B-Line will be allocated for the pilot program, but an approval from Town Meeting is warranted in order to make that reallocation.
The federal grant is said to provide $75,000 in funds, and the expectation is the town has to match the $75,000 for a total of $150,000 in order to see the initiative comes to fruition.
The subsidy will provide financial assistance for individuals who are elderly, disabled, and income-eligible.
“It will help people who the B-Line has helped over the years,” confirmed Sanchez. “The [COA] will run the pilot program. Using ride share services will be better, providing point-to-point transportation, rather than just scheduled stops.”
Ride share services, such as Uber and Lyft, can provide rides 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, unlike the B-Line.
The Burlington Transit Committee unanimously approved the pilot program, so the Selectmen were firmly behind the initiative but they did not have to vote on it.
“I think this program is going to work, but we do not know exactly how it is going to work, so the pilot program will be good for trial-and-error,” pointed out Selectman Chair Joseph Morandi.
Sanchez and McDonald agreed that the pilot will help “weed out” any unforeseen variables that arise.
Sagarino applauded Sanchez and McDonald for the work they put into the exploratory transportation task.
“I commend [Sanchez and McDonald] for turning over every stone when exploring options. Many options are not feasible, given the current ridership, but we feel like this is the one option that may work for us,” remarked Sagarino.
Uber and Lyft riders utilize the apps of the ride share services on their phones in order to schedule transportation fares. No further details were given as to how a typical B-Line user would arrange a ride with Uber or Lyft. This matter, regarding the funds transfer from the B-Line to the aforementioned pilot initiative, will be heard at Town Meeting on Monday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Burlington High School’s Fogelberg Performing Arts Center.