A host of changes are in store for the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, including new hybrid electric-biodiesel buses decorated in multicolor graphics, new shelters and benches at bus stops in Lawrence, Amesbury and Methuen, new signage to better define bus stops along all routes, and “smart benches” at several bus stops in Haverhill.
The Transit Authority, which provides commuter bus services throughout the Merrimack Valley, will change its name to “MeVe” (Merrimack Valley Transit) and will have a new logo, “Let’s Go” in English and “Vamos” in Spanish, which reflects the authority’s bilingual ridership.
“As part of our visibility campaign, starting in September we’re rolling out new looks for the buses,” said MVRTA Administrator Noah Berger.
He said his organization bought nine new “clean diesel” hybrid electric buses of a “sleek design.” Another eight buses are on order and all are being purchased through the federal transit administration’s funding for the MVRTA.
“Then we’ll go back and repaint our existing buses,” Berger said, adding the new hybrid buses run on biodiesel, a blend of diesel fuel and vegetable oil, and are also electrically powered in a manner similar to a standard (non plug -in) Toyota Prius.
He stresses the word “clean” to distinguish it from the black, heavy exhaust that was spewed by diesel buses decades ago, however, diesel fuel still emits carbon dioxide, which is both a health and environmental concern.
“We are anticipating transitioning to battery-electric vehicle technology, but we have to get the sequence right,” Berger said. “Before procuring electric vehicles, we first need to build the charging infrastructure to support the vehicles and that can only happen in a new or expanded facility. As evidenced by the recent electric (transit) bus fire in Connecticut, it is very important that we get the supportive infrastructure and storage correct.
“My first priority is providing reliable service to our riders,” Berger added. “The reality is, a full clean diesel bus is much better for the environment and our riders than an out of commission electric bus sitting in the shop in need of repair.”
Glass shelters coming
As the lead on a state Shared Streets and Spaces grant for $399,312 for Lawrence and Amesbury, the MVRTA plans to purchase and install new glass shelters with benches at 14 bus stops in Lawrence and four in Amesbury. Two shelters with benches plus a standalone bench are planned for Methuen under another Shared Streets grant.
“This will be for wherever we have major corridors and right of way,” Berger said. “On our own, we’re installing 500 poles and bus stop signs along with other amenities to transition from a flag stop system to a more traditional bus stop system.”
He said the new signs will display information about the stops and where the buses are going along with a QR code.
“The system we have now works for people who know the system but can be intimidating for those who don’t know our system,” Berger said. “We will slowly transition from wave stops – which you can still do, and we’ll have a hybrid system until we fully transition.”
He said the Shared Streets awards from MassDOT will help his organization fulfill its vision for a “more visible, welcoming and customer-oriented transit system.”
The new bus stop shelters will include “wayfinding” signage, network maps and schedules, lighting, heating fixtures, and benches.
“We worked with Mayor Brian DePeña in Lawrence and Mayor Kassandra Gove in Amesbury to identify locations where there was both sufficient sidewalk right of way and high concentrations of senior, youth and disabled riders, who would most benefit from the installations,” Berger said.
Lawrence shelter locations include Broadway, Hampshire Street by Rita Hall, Essex Street, Union Street by Valebrook Apartments, South Broadway, and South Union Street by the Social Security Administration.
Amesbury locations include Haverhill Road by Boston North Industrial Park as well as Main Street by Heritage Towers and Friend Street by the Elms.
Berger said the shelters will be state-of-the-art glass designs, similar to the ones installed last year on River Street in Haverhill by Lowell Avenue.
Pedestrian safety improvements coming to Methuen
Methuen’s $392,660 Shared Streets grant will be used to improve pedestrian safety on lower Broadway between Park Street and the Lawrence city line.
Brian Keating, a senior planner with Methuen’s Department of Economic & Community Development, said the improvements are designed to improve pedestrian safety while crossing Broadway and awaiting bus service along the MVRTA transit routes.
The project features eight new or upgraded crosswalks and 17 new ADA compliant pedestrian ramps.
“Three of these crosswalks will be newly signaled with electronic audible crossing signals,” Keating said. “Three new pedestrian refuge islands will also be installed between the travel lanes further assisting pedestrians.”
In partnership with the MVRTA, two new bus shelters and one stand-alone bench will replace the current bus route flagging (hand waving) system. Keating said the sidewalks adjacent to the new shelters will be extended to accommodate the new facilities.
“This project will be a capstone in the city’s effort to attain maximum pedestrian safety along Broadway by ensuring that all ADA ramps and crosswalks between Gaunt Square and the Lawrence city line are fully compliant and that crosswalks are frequent and highly visible,” he said.
New smart benches for Haverhill
Through a $50,000 Shared Streets and Spaces grant from the state, Haverhill in partnership with the MVRTA plans to purchase several smart benches manufactured by Canavisia, a division of Seica Inc., an Italian company that has its main US headquarters at 110 Avco Road in the Ward Hill Industrial Park. The benches will be installed in front of Haverhill Housing Authority apartment buildings. One of the benches, donated by Seica, will be installed in downtown Washington Square.
Reporter Terry Date contributed to this story.