Lowell City Council Transportation Subcommittee: May 19, 2015

Chairman Jim Milinazzo, Committee members John Leahy and Bill Martin.  Executive Director Jim Scanlon is present.  LRTA averages 6000 riders per day which makes 1.4 million per year.  Busiest route is Westford Street and also the downtown shuttle.  They are almost done a comprehensive service analysis and will hold public hearings during the coming month.  They expect to make minor improvements to several routes.  Milinazzo asks if having Lowell High downtown bumps up their ridership.  He asks if their service analysis captures ridership by age group.  Scanlon says they have special buses and routes that begin and end directly at LHS.  He says probably 1500 students per week ride the bus.  Students ride at a discount, a very low discount ($20 for a student monthly pass v. $35 for an adult).  He says the LRTA hasn’t had a fare increase since 2002.  Scanlon explains that it’s impractical to use smaller buses on some routes because the same bus that runs a low-rider route then makes its next run on a high-rider route.  Councilor Belanger, who is present, asks if students are taken directly to the high school.  Some are, at 7am.  Milinazzo asks how much of ridership is MCC and UML students?  Scanlon says he’s not sure about Middlesex.  He says he’d like to work more closely with UML.  Says the Broadway and Circulator routes can do a better job serving the University.  They’re trying to design a route that services the North, East and South campuses.

Next motion (this one, as the first, was by Mayor Elliott) is about examining bus service downtown.  Milinazzo puts it in the context of the prior system where buses originated downtown.  Also asks about a smart phone app that tells you when the bus is coming.  Scanlon says they already have a contractor working on a GPS system that will tell riders the whereabouts of the bus in real time.  He says that should be ready for use by the end of the summer.  Regarding downtown access, Scanlon says that there is no bus hub downtown.  Despite that, they try to have as much bus activity downtown as possible.  Some buses travel through downtown on their natural path.  He says other buses, like the South Lowell bus, it doesn’t make much since to route it through downtown because it would add at least 10 minutes to the route.  This would inconvenience people who want to transfer to another bus or take the train.  What’s the difference between the shuttle and the circulator?  The shuttle runs every 15 minutes to the bus stop on Merrimack St. from the Kennedy Center.  The Circulator was created to increase activity in downtown.  It “circulates” from the Kennedy Center to Appleton, High, East Merrimack, Merrimack, UML Fox Hall, then back to Central Street to the Kennedy Center.  They would like to shorten this route to get more activity on it, especially by college students.

Finally, response to a motion by Councilor Kennedy on bus access for disabled individuals.  A resident, Charles Vergados, addresses the subcommittee.  Says the smaller buses that are sometimes used take 5-7 minutes to load a wheelchair rider.  Recommends a particular type of small bus that is used by UML.  Scanlon says he would prefer that type of bus and will work to obtain them.  In response to another question, Scanlon says one of his highest priorities is to begin Sunday bus service.  A couple of other residents advocate for returning the bus hub to downtown.  Also, consideration should be given to special buses for special occasions like the Southeast Asian Water Festival or special events at UMass Lowell.