Bus service is too limited. The hours do not accommodate working people, especially young people, who rely on public transportation to get them to and from work.
That’s the drum the staff and youth of the United Teen Equality Center have been beating for a decade, since the first City Council candidates forum they sponsored in 2003.
It took some time, but their pleas have been heard. On Monday August 26, Lowell Regional Transit Authority bus lines will run later, adding 53 additional trips per weekday, 5,000 new hours of service annually, LRTA Executive Director Jim Scanlan said at a press conference at Gallagher Terminal Tuesday afternoon.
Hours of the downtown shuttle bus will also be extended to 9:30 p.m., adding 20 trips per day. The changes affect not only bus routes in Lowell, but in Billerica, Burlington, Chelmsford, Dracut, Tewksbury and Westford.
“It gives us more opportunities to work later evenings,” said UTEC Teen Organizer Debbie An. “At the end of the day it is really helpful. We are very thankful.”
City Manager Bernie Lynch said the elements necessary for successful public transportation include dependable service and clean buses, which the LRTA already has, and providing service to people who need it WHEN they need it, which will be accomplish by this expansion.
The added service was made possible by an additional $500,000 in state and federal funds, including $230,000 from the state Legislature’s transportation-finance bill.
In January the LRTA expanded its Saturday service, resulting in a 25 percent increase in ridership. Scanlan said last Saturday 2,000 people took the bus, compared to 1,300 the same Saturday last year.
“If you put the service on the street, people are going to use it,” said Scanlan.“The people of the Greater Lowell area have been short-changed for a long time.”
Lynch said in his seven years as City Manager, he has heard from the youth at UTEC, as well as businesses and residents about the need to expand bus service. But, it was Mayor Patrick Murphy, who he called a “proven advocate for public transportation in our region and particularly in our city,” who has “held my feet to the fire” to make the expansion, as well as additional bus stops and bus shelters happen throughout the city.
Murphy said he picked up where his grandfather, City Councilor George Murphy, left off 50 years ago.
George Murphy was a bus driver for the Eastern Bus Company, who used his platform as a city councilor, to advocate for expanded bus service.
“I’m happy to follow in that line,” said Mayor Murphy, adding that the LRTA has been a great partner with the city and very responsive to the needs of its residents, unlike Eastern Bus, who never complied with the elder Murphy’s requests.
“The LRTA recognizes the importance of public transportation not only to our city, but the importance of public transportation to sustainable development for years to come,” he said.
Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce President Danielle McFadden said expanded LRTA service makes the city a more “desirable place to live work and come to spend money,” a plus not only for businesses in Lowell, but throughout the region.
More accessible public transit also benefits the arts, culture and sports venues in the city as well as makes it easier for Middlesex Community College and UMass Lowell students to get around the city and participate in evening activities, McFadden said.
“There are so many people dependent on this service,” said Sen. Eileen Donoghue, adding she and other members of the Statehouse delegation saw the extent of the need for public transportation services and funding in early 2012 when scores of residents showed by at a hearing Lowell City Hall railing against plans to cut some MBTA services.
Donoghue said she is pleased “the transportation finance we supported will bring these changes and others in the future.”
For more information about the expanded schedule visit www.lrta.com