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WRTA’s New Worcester Bus Plan Angers Downtown Riders

Thursday, July 11, 2013

 

The sight of WRTA buses at downtown stops may be a thing of the past, if a new routing system that focuses on the Hub is implemented, and that has Worcester riders angry.

The opening of the Worcester Regional Transportation Authority (WRTA) Transportation Hub has provoked outspoken criticism and concern from Worcester locals, which was voiced in two public meetings held at the Hub on Wednesday.

The Hub was opened on May 28th, 2013, at Union Station to serve as facility to promote connections with other modes of transportation, but recent proposed re-routings of bus lines have locals concerned that WRTA is sweeping downtown bus riders out of the area, to a less-convenient spot. “The bus system is here today and gone tomorrow, the schedule has changed three times. They are so anxious to get rid of us,” said local community activist, Jo Hart.

“That is the farthest thing from the truth,” said WRTA administrator Stephen O’Neil, in response to Hart’s comments about “cleaning out” the downtown area. He explained that though there are a number of problems to solve, over time it will provide great service to local bus-riders. The purpose of opening the Hub at Union Station was to provide a “one-stop shop,” as Stephen O’Neil put it. “Union Station is a reasonable transportation center. There are trains, taxis and Peter Pan buses, but up until recently, there were no city buses,” he said.

Doubts over WRTA's plan

Despite a presentation from a WRTA representative on the benefits of the change to Worcester's bus routes promises, many residents and bus riders attending the meetings expressed doubts.

The public meetings, one at 12:30 and one at 5:30, were well-attended by 45 and 30 people. In addition to concerns over stop changes, bus schedules for students, the lack of Sunday service, the replacement of the Main Street stops by the Hub, and the overall social message that these changes represent, speakers questioned how people with disabilities could accommodate the proposed changes.

The Hub, where the WRTA wants city buses to base their operations.

“Not one person that got up today said ‘that’s a great system.’ Go back to what you had or else the downtown area will be empty,” said Dean Marcus, owner of the Mid-Town Mall. Marcus expressed concerns of the many retailers and consumers on Main Street, which once was a vibrant area. “Now retailers are closing more and more stores, they’re off 40 percent in profits,” he said. Without buses running down Main Street and stopping frequently, local businesses will see a harsh decline in customers, and therefore money. “If you’re not responsive to your consumers, you are failing,” Marcus said to O’Neil.

Unable to go to church on Sunday

“I can’t go anywhere, even to church on Sunday,” said Maria Aguirre, addressing WRTA's lack of weekend bus service. Without transportation to places of leisure, recreation and even places of worship, individuals are starting to feel isolated.

Atendees, although critical, expressed their understanding of the many difficulties that the WRTA has to face. However, they feel that having stops on Main Street is a must. “I understand your predicament, but give us Main Street back,” Gayle Anderson said. The WRTA offers a free shuttle bus going to Main Street from the Hub in order to offset the shortage of stops. Terry Kelly suggested that all the stops should stay on Main Street, where the shuttle should take people from there to the Hub. This would ultimately solve the issue of “cleaning out the city” that Hart expressed.

Ignoring people with disabilities

"They are so anxious to get rid of us." -Community activitist Jo Hart,

Over and over again the distress of people with disabilities was brought up. The changing of routes, lack of shelters, and the absence of stops on Main Street is making it difficult for blind, deaf and physically disabled individuals to make their connections. The transition has been anything but smooth for the disabled. They are currently relying on the kindness of strangers rather than the support of the company to get around the new system. The company must meet with ADA regulations, making this a pressing problem.

O’Neil addressed what WRTA’s next step will be. The WRTA will take data and suggestions from the two meetings, and hold an in-house transportation group meeting to discuss them. They will then present their suggestions for improvement at the advisory board meeting, in order to implement changes for August 24th, 2013. The community will have to wait and see what changes will be made.

But is the beautification of Worcester's City Hall area--which this new plan would largely sweep "clean" of bus riders, another desired outcome of WRTA's transportation plan? “If Worcester wasn’t so downtrodden, I would suggest boycotting the bus, but it’s hard to ask people to do that,” said Hart. “I would suggest buying an all day pass and not going to the Hub at all.”

 

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