For suburban buses on the South Shore, a slow decline

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P&B makes 16 daily trips from Hyannis to Logan, up from 29 before its pandemic-induced shutdown in March 2020. He also established a new route from Hyannis to TF Green Airport in Warwick, RI, with six trips per day.

The company said a revised schedule would go into effect on Saturday and roll out online next week. Sargent said he would continue to add trips if demand warrants it. As of mid-July, P&B was serving about 25% of the runners it had before COVID-19, he said.

“We’re trying to make a profit, so we want to gradually get into the game and not waste a lot of capital on a bunch of trades that didn’t make sense,” Sargent said. “I would say a high percentage of our customers understand what we do.

The conservative approach back makes sense, according to Jarred Johnson, executive director of transportation advocacy group TransitMatters. Although the ridership of city buses increased as soon as service returned to Boston, longer trips was not so popular.

Many suburban commuters south of the city have the option of working from home, Johnson said, and likely own a car – which is why the Southeast Highway is one of the most congested highways in the country. .

For those who have returned to using P&B, they have enjoyed a ride that is a significant improvement over the company’s old, often unreliable buses. The new coaches have improved air filtration and are equipped with collision mitigation systems. Like the old ones, they also have Wi-Fi. The investment was part of Sargent’s plan to renew the fleet every six or seven years to maintain efficiency.

Returning regulars will also notice that bus trips are now more expensive. While one-way fares have remained the same since 2017, according to Sargent, the company has “reduced the amount of discount we give to passengers” who commute. For example, a 10-trip pass from Plymouth to South Station that previously cost $ 73 is now $ 96.

“The industry in general found that the profit models it was instituting was a path to failure,” Sargent said. “Some big carriers that can’t come back, it’s because. . . they operated with slim to zero profit margins. So being a low cost carrier is definitely not a path to success. “

But bus lines such as P&B have long had a reputation for being more affordable than the train, and Sargent said he’s confident passengers will stay loyal, despite the significant price hike.

“A passenger said to me, ‘I know cheap gives you a broken bus.’ I see more value in getting to my destination in a safe and timely manner, and that’s what we’re delivering.

Johnson, however, believes the additional spending is likely to discourage some commuters from traveling by bus, causing more of them to choose automobiles instead.

“I imagine a lot of them say it’s not worth it,” he said. “Now that the prices are higher, this really represents a great value proposition. “

The result, he said, could be additional congestion on roads that are already well overcapacity. Johnson said Massachusetts needed a “fundamental change” in the way it thinks about transportation.

Josh Ostroff, acting director of the Transportation for Massachusetts policy advocacy coalition, said he hoped the state Department of Transportation would take the opportunity after the pandemic to help with the recovery of private bus lines and other forms of public transportation.

He said traffic jam has returned to pre-pandemic levels on many roads, contributing to lost productivity that hurts the economy while releasing emissions that harm public health.

“We don’t price our routes to meet demand issues,” Ostroff said. “Giving buses an express lane and imposing congestion charges on single-occupant vehicles is good policy. This is an area for the state to explore. “

P&B, like other bus lines across the country, has also long struggled to hire and retain drivers.

To help alleviate this, P&B has partnered with the military by joining the Partnership for Youth Success program As part of the program, military personnel who leave the military – especially those in transport units – will get a guaranteed job interview with the company. Sargent said he hopes to hire veterans as drivers, mechanics and administrative staff.

Despite the difficulties faced by the industry, Johnson said, he predicts that bus travel will continue to play a key role in commuting. Rail lines don’t reach many places, and people in more rural or low-income communities will always depend on buses, he said.

Johnson said he understood the apprehension people can have about being within the narrow confines of a bus, especially if they are immunocompromised, but these concerns need to be put into perspective.

“One of the things we all need to do, whether it’s the media, elected officials or others, is to make sure we don’t fall into unfair stigma. [public] transit, ”he said. “Because people eat indoors in relatively full restaurants. Clubs and bars are open. People are hurrying all the same.


Angela Yang can be contacted at angela.yang@globe.com.


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