MA: MeVa may change bus route after residents complain

Feb. 27, 2024
A proposal for a revised Route 19 would eliminate Oakland Street and offer new connections on Low Street with the bus taking Toppans Lane to connect from High Street to Low Street.

Feb. 23—NEWBURYPORT — The Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority is looking to eliminate the Towle Office Building from one of its local bus routes and will give the public a chance to weigh in on the matter Thursday.

Route 19 replaced Routes 54 and 57 and connects the MBTA commuter rail station in Newburyport to the Nicholas J. Costello Transportation Building in Amesbury.

The bus makes runs to the Towle Office Building, where Mass General Brigham Community Physicians is located on Merrimac Street. But city Chief of Staff Andrew Levine said the data the mayor's administration has seen shows the building has not been getting a lot of ridership.

Having a bus travel down Merrimac Street to reach the Towle Office Building requires it to cut through Oakland Street to get to Anna Jaques Hospital, according to Levine.

He said residents of the small side street have voiced concerns about bus traffic.

A proposal for a revised Route 19 would eliminate Oakland Street and offer new connections on Low Street with the bus taking Toppans Lane to connect from High Street to Low Street.

"That's been difficult on some of the Oakland Street residents," Levine said. "Based on the data that we've seen, it makes sense to change that route."

Noah Berger, administrator and CEO of the transit authority, more commonly known as MeVa, said the proposed bus route would no longer serve Merrimac Street west of Route 1.

"Everything in transportation is a tradeoff," he said. "Ideally, we would serve the Towle Office Building and also that part of Merrimac Street but I think there are betterments for the new routing that not only accommodate the people who didn't want the bus on their street.

"But the people who live at the Heritage House will now be able to get to Market Basket in seven minutes," Berger added. "They will also be able to get directly to the Newburyport Public Library in the downtown, along with the CVS on Pond Street."

Although the bus route will continue to serve Anna Jaques Hospital, Berger said the building's configuration has always made that difficult.

"We have never served the hospital perfectly and we will continue to serve it imperfectly," he said. "The best way to get there is probably through High Street and you can go up Arlington or Lafayette streets."

Berger added that MeVa has been working with the hospital to offer a bus stop near the parking area at the main entrance.

"We have a very good relationship with the hospital but it's obviously not a quick fix," he said.

The city will host a public meeting on the proposed bus route change on Thursday at 5 p.m.

"This is an opportunity to hear from people, respond and to listen," Berger said.

Levine said the city has received plenty of feedback from Oakland Street and Highland Avenue residents concerned about the bus traveling up and down their small side streets.

"Adding a service to a road can be a good thing," he said. "But it can also be something that's surprising for folks if it's not messaged properly. It was a change for them to have bus service on their streets.

"We were willing to continue doing it while trying to find ways to mitigate their concerns," Levine added. "But it does look like we can improve the overall service by taking the service off those streets."

MeVa also runs Route 20 from Newburyport to Salisbury Beach, which Levine said will not change.

"That route has actually been working pretty well," he said.

The bus service has been free to riders since March 2022 and Berger said it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

"That includes our door-to-door paratransit service, which is able to go right to the front door of the hospital," he said. "That's officially known as miniMeVa."

Mayor Sean Reardon said the proposed bus route change shows just how good it has been for the city to work with MeVa.

"They have been willing and able to be available and get creative and think about routes a certain way," he said.

"I think it's great that people have this free, public transportation available right now and they're working with all of their cities and towns to think of ways to increase ridership but also not have those impacts on neighborhoods," Reardon added. "So they're making some tweaks that really go a long way."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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