For many students who live in South Brookline, getting home after school is no small task. Those living four or more miles from the school must take the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) supplemental 51 bus. This bus is on a special route that picks up high school students on the campus after school.
According to students, the bus is problematic due to its tardiness and inconsistency in arrivals. However, administrators said that they can’t do much about it because the bus is operated and run by the MBTA.
According to Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason, the high school enlists the MBTA bus to pick up kids that live in areas less accessible by public transportation.
“The bus is essentially a courtesy bus that’s been set up by agreement with the MBTA. They agreed to send it since we have so many kids that live in an area that’s the hardest area to get to on public transportation,” Mason said.
According to junior Bridget McMahon, who rides the bus every day, the 51 bus waits only a few moments for students to board before departing shortly after school ends.
“Sometimes it arrives late. Sometimes it arrives early. It never waits. If you’re not there within the first maybe five minutes, the bus will leave,” McMahon said. “Sometimes the bus doesn’t come at all.”
Mary Murphy, Transportation Coordinator for the Public Schools of Brookline, said that the MBTA is responsible for scheduling and planning the supplemental 51 bus arrival time and route. Both Murphy and Mason said that when the bus encounters delays, they do their best to resolve the issue by contacting the MBTA.
“I’ve heard reports that there have been some days when the bus does not show, and generally we report that to the MBTA and try to find out what’s going on and it’s not always easy to get all the answers we need,” Mason said. “But most of the time the bus runs, and most of the time the bus is on time.”
According to Murphy, some of the bus’s problems are timeliness, communication with the high school administrators and with the MBTA adjusting to the high school’s schedule.
Murphy said that the bus leaves early only when it reaches maximum rider capacity.
“The bus only stays as long as it fills to capacity, and once it fills to capacity, at the discretion of the driver, they can leave because they take no more passengers,” Murphy said.
Mason said that he thinks running a second bus would be impossible because the current bus is run at an off-peak time, but a later bus would run during peak hours and encounter traffic obstacles.
“At the time they run the bus, it’s not a heavy demand time for buses, but by the time the late bus comes, there’s so much traffic it would be hard to make the late bus run consistently. I don’t think they’d have enough people to justify running a second bus,” Mason said.
According to Jason B. Johnson from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the bus is funded by other sources rather than by the town of Brookline and that during pickup at the high school, students seeking a ride do not have to pay.
“The route 51 trip is operated by the MBTA and uses a variety of funding sources such as fare revenues and sales tax from municipal assessments. There are no direct payments that are received from Brookline or Brookline High School for specific trips,” Johnson said in a phone interview.
Murphy also said that it would be fiscally irresponsible for the MBTA to run another bus and advised students who stay late or miss the bus to travel independently to Reservoir.
“It’s a budget issue for the MBTA, which is running on a tremendous deficit,” Murphy said. “We remind that all students are still expected to pay to take the supplemental bus, and then once they miss the bus, there is a way that they can be an independent traveler by taking the D line to Reservoir and walking upstairs and taking the 51 back.”
According to Johnson, outside factors can affect MBTA service, but he continues to keep in touch with the school to best minimize the times that the bus is tardy.
“As with any service, factors such as traffic, weather and vehicle availability can have an impact on service reliability, and the MBTA has been in touch with school officials to specifically discuss certain liability concerns and school related afternoon traffic,” Johnson said.
Murphy said that she appreciated students’ patience regarding the problems with the 51 bus and that problems that arise are continuing to be dealt with.
“We are committed to continue to collaborate with the MBTA for the best interest of our students,” she said. “But we are quite limited and we don’t control the bidding or the supervision of the drivers.”