The struggle for social distance on Chelsea buses

CHELSEA, Mass. — Boarding a crowded bus was the norm, then came coronavirus restrictions and as the state continues the reopening phases, there is a struggle to socially distance on Chelsea buses, once again.

“The people are so close,” said Ana Bermudez, of Chelsea, a rider of the 111 bus who took photographs on Friday morning that were shared with Boston 25 News.

We watched midday as a handful of buses did not appear overly crowded but she says there’s a difference in the mornings as people head to work, many of them essential workers who are low income and rely on bus service.

“It’s disturbing because we’re putting all these limitations on restaurants, coffee shops, and supermarkets,” said Roy Avellaneda, city council president.

Chelsea was one of the first hotspots in the commonwealth for COVID-19, and still has one of the highest infection rates according to the latest data available on the Department of Public Health’s website.

Avellaneda said the MBTA is responsible for easing congestion.

“They need to have better policing or they need to figure a ways to increase the number of buses between routes maybe go back to a regular schedule for the heavier used buses.”

>> Previous: MBTA working to prevent overcrowding in as state continues to reopen

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak has openly discussed the issues of bus crowding and did so on Wednesday and said the T is deploying additional service where needed.

Overall the T is running about 60% of its service with ridership down on most lines, Chelsea meanwhile, remains busy.

“Part of the issue for us has been workforce availability,” Poftak said Wednesday. “As of last week, we had almost 400 employees who are out on some type of covid-19 related leave.”

Friday, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo responded to calls for the T to increase enforcement and bus service:

“General Manager Steve Poftak has made it very clear that the health and safety of employees and riders are of paramount importance and that everyone who rides the T must wear a face covering, which doesn’t have to be a mask necessarily. Also acceptable are items such as bandanas, scarves, etc. (anything that covers the nose and mouth). Through visual and audio messaging, the T will continue to inform riders of the executive order which requires face coverings. It is important to remember that the executive order does not apply to people with certain medical conditions such as respiratory ailments. MBTA personnel did not ask individuals to provide proof of a medical condition. The MBTA has stated repeatedly that service adjustments will be made in accordance with the Commonwealth’s phased reopening strategy. In the interim, the T closely monitors daily ridership and adds bus trips when deemed appropriate. The T is also launching real-time bus crowding information on some of the most heavily-used routes. Crowding data will be available on, certain digital screens like the new bus e-ink displays, and on Transit App."

GreenRoots, an environmental advocacy group in Chelsea said the Commuter Rail is a good alternative to lessen bus congestion but is too expensive for many residents.

The group wants to see the MBTA implement a low-income fair for front line and essential workers so the Commuter Rail.

Transportation For Massachusetts, a transportation group in Boston said the T is in a tough spot.

“We tend to agree with the T’s approach on this, we’re not supporting the idea of a hard cap on the number of riders on a bus because we don’t want riders to be left behind,” said Chris Dempsey, Director.

“The one place that we disagree with them is that they are still running Saturday service which means that their frequency is lower than they otherwise could be, should be.”

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