Regional Bus Study Cover


Massachusetts Regional Bus Study



Project Manager

Jonathan Belcher

Project Principals

Annette Demchur

Elizabeth Moore

Data Analysts

Steven Andrews

Jonathan Belcher

Thomas Humphrey

William Kuttner

Mary McShane

Paul Reim


Kenneth Dumas

Cover Design

Kim Noonan

The preparation of this document was funded by the
Massachusetts Department of Transportation –
Rail & Transit Division.

Central Transportation Planning Staff

Directed by the Boston Region Metropolitan
Planning Organization
. The MPO is composed of
state and regional agencies and authorities, and
local governments.

June 2013


Study Area Map



To request additional copies of this document or

copies in an accessible format, contact:

         Central Transportation Planning Staff

         State Transportation Building

         Ten Park Plaza, Suite 2150

         Boston, Massachusetts 02116

         (617) 973-7100

         (617) 973-8855 (fax)

         (617) 973-7089 (TTY)



Massachusetts Regional Bus Study


List of Exhibits


S.1           Context

S.2           Study Purpose and Approach

S.3           Summary of Findings

S.3.1        Coverage

S.3.2        Equipment

S.3.3        Facilities

S.3.4        Coordination with Regional Transit Authorities

S.3.5        Marketing

S.3.6        Coordination with Commuter Rail Fare System

S.3.7        Coordination with the National Bus Network

S.3.8        Funding Available

S.3.9        Peer Comparison

S.3.10      Boston Terminal Issues

S.3.11      Regulations

S.4           Summary of Recommendations


1              Introduction

1.1           Background

1.2           Study Objectives

1.3           Organization of This Report


2              The Regional Bus Network: Recent Evolution and Its Interactions with RTA Services

2.1           Existing Regional Network

2.2           Changes to Regional Bus Service between 1980 and 2012

2.2.1        Changes in Community Coverage

2.2.2        Changes in Levels of Service

2.2.3        Characteristics of Reduced or Discontinued Services

2.3           Changes in RTA Service in Response to Changes in Regional Bus Service

2.4           Changes to the Passenger Rail Network in Massachusetts between 1980 and 2012

2.5           Communities with Both Regional Bus and Commuter Rail Service to Boston

2.6           Interaction between Regional Private Carriers and Regional Transit Authorities: Services and Facilities

2.6.1        Regional Bus Services Operating in Each Regional Transit Authority District and Connecting Local Services

2.6.2        Connections between Regional Transit Authority Districts

2.7           Parking Facilities

2.7.1        Review of Park-and-Ride Lot Conditions

2.7.2        Importance of Parking

2.8           Fare Structures, Including Potential Integration of Regional Bus and MBTA Fare Structures

2.8.1        Fare Structures

2.8.2        Interaction with the MBTA Rapid Transit System

2.8.3        Interaction with MBTA Commuter Rail

2.8.4        Potential Integration with MBTA Fare Media


3              Existing Regulations

3.1           Background

3.2           Federal Regulation of Intercity Bus Service

3.3           Massachusetts Regulation of Fixed-Route Bus Service 

3.3.1        Chapter 159A

3.3.2        Chapter 161A

3.3.3        Chapter 161B


4              Boston Area Terminal Activity and Capacity

4.1           South Station Terminal

4.1.1        South Station Terminal Fees and Arrangements

4.1.2        Review of Operations

4.1.3        Possible Methods to Increase Throughput at South Station during the PM Peak Period

4.2           Boston Regional Bus Services with Stops at Locations Other than South Station

4.2.1        Curbside Stop Operations in Boston

4.2.2       Curbside Stop Conditions in Boston

4.2.3        Potential for Service to Other Locations in Boston (Non-suburban)

4.2.4        Suburban Boston Stop Locations for Long-Distance Regional Bus Service, Actual and Potential

4.2.5        Service to Logan Airport

4.3           Midday Layovers for Regional Buses in Boston 

4.3.1        Commuter Carriers

4.3.2        Non-Commuter Carriers


5              The Bus Fleet

5.1           Fleet Make-Up and Vehicle Requirements

5.1.1        Fleet Descriptions of Carriers Based in Massachusetts


6              Network Coverage

6.1           Underserved Areas

6.1.1        Identification of Underserved Areas

6.1.2        Potential Services to Underserved Areas

6.2           Capabilities and Limitations for Connectivity within the State and Beyond

6.2.1        Urban-Area-to-Urban-Area Connectivity

6.2.2        Latest Allowable Departure Times for Sample City-Pairs

6.2.3        Connectivity to the Boston and New York City Metropolitan Areas

6.2.4        Connectivity to Adjacent States

6.3           Connecting with the National Intercity Bus Network

6.3.1        National Bus Traffic Association Membership

6.3.2        Potential for Rural Service Interlining


7        Marketing and Passenger Demographics

7.1           Existing Fare Structures

7.2           Marketing

7.3           Statewide and RTA-Level Schedule and Trip Planning Data for Rail and Bus Services

7.3.1        Statewide

7.3.2        RTA-Level

7.3.3        Peer Comparisons

7.4           Existing Passenger Characteristics

7.4.1        Reasons for Riding the Bus

7.4.2        Passenger Demographics

7.4.3        Passenger Ratings of Service

7.4.4        Passengers Preferences for Service Changes


8              Funding Programs

8.1           Federal Intercity Bus Operating Assistance—Section 5311(f)

8.2           Additional Federal Programs

8.2.1        Urbanized Area Formula Program—Section 5307

8.2.2        Bus and Bus Facilities Formula Grants—Section 5339

8.2.3        State of Good Repair Formula Grants—Section 5337

8.2.4        Formula Grants for Rural Areas—Section 5311

8.2.5        Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities—Section 5310

8.2.6        Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Funds

8.3           State Funding

8.3.1        The Discontinued Interdistrict Operating Subsidy Program

8.3.2        Capital Subsidies

8.4           Peer Review of Regional Bus Funding Programs

8.4.1        Use of Federal Section 5311(f) Funding for Intercity Service

8.4.2        Regional Commuter Bus Services Provided by Private Carriers


9           Other Services Provided by Private Motor Carrier  Operators in Massachusetts

9.1           Charter and Tour Operators


Appendix: DPU CPCN Review

A.1           Introduction

A.2           Information Sources

A.3           Summary of Findings

A.4           General-Purpose Intercity Bus Operators

A.4.1        Greyhound Lines, Inc.

A.4.2        Peter Pan Bus Lines, Inc.

A.4.3        Bonanza Acquisition, LLC

A.5           Companies Mostly Providing Boston Express Commuter Service

A.5.1        A Yankee Line, Inc.

A.5.2        Bloom’s Bus Lines and H & L Bloom, Inc.

A.5.3        DATTCO, Inc.

A.5.4        Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Company 

A.5.5        The Coach Company


A.6.1        Crystal Transport, Inc.

A.6.2        Fox Bus Lines, Inc.

A.6.3        Joseph’s Transportation (also known as Joseph’s Limousine & Transportation)

A.6.4        M & L Transit Systems

A.6.5        McGinn Bus Company, Inc.

A.6.6        Paul Revere Transportation, LLC


A.7.1        Barrett’s Tours

A.7.2        Brush Hill Transportation Company

A.7.3        Salem Trolley

A.7.4        Back Bay Coach

A.7.5        Flight Line


A.8.1        Cavalier Coach Trailways

A.8.2        King Ward Coach Lines

A.8.3        Knight’s Airport Limousine Service

A.8.4        Local Motion, Inc.

A.8.5        People Care-iers, Inc.

A.8.6        Reliable Bus Lines, Inc.

A.8.7        Ritchie Bus Lines, Inc.

A.8.8        Sansone Motors, Inc.

A.8.9        Transit Bus Line, Inc.

A.8.10     Trombly Motor Coach Service, Inc.

A.8.11     Vocell Bus Company, Inc.

A.8.12     Wilson Bus Lines, Inc.


List of Exhibits


Figure 1          Massachusetts Transit Map

Figure 2           Massachusetts Regional Bus Routes

Figure 3           New England Regional Bus Routes

Figure 4           Massachusetts Regional Bus Routes and Commuter Rail

Figure 5           Massachusetts Regional Bus Routes by Regional Transit Authority with Fixed-Route Service

Figure 6           Massachusetts Regional Bus Routes, Commuter Rail, and Park-and-Ride Lots

Figure 7           Bus Carrier Stop Locations in Downtown Boston

Figure 8           Regional Bus Stops and Commuter Rail Stations, with Buffers

Figure 9           Population Density by Census Tract (2010 Census) in Relation to Regional Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Figure 10         Median Annual Household Income by Town (2005-2009) in Relation to Regional Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Figure 11         Vehicles per Household by Town (2005-2009) in Relation to Regional Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Figure 12         Median Age of Registered Vehicles, by Town (2011) in Relation to Regional Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Figure 13         Population Density of Persons 65 Years Old or Older by Census Tract (2010 Census)

Figure 14         Major Traffic Generators in Relation to Regional Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Figure 15         Urban-Area-to-Urban Area Schematic



 1             Intercity and Commuter Bus Routes Operating to the Boston Area

 2             Intercity Bus Routes in Massachusetts Not Directly Serving the Boston Area

 3             Ridership and Survey Response Rates on Routes Primarily Operating within Massachusetts

 4             Corridor Comparison of Massachusetts Regional Bus Routes 1980 to 2011 (listed in decreasing order by change in trips)

 5             Round-Trips per Day on the Commuter Rail Network by Line

 6             2009 Amtrak Station Annual Boardings and Alightings in Massachusetts.

 7             Regional Bus Service in the Brockton Area Transit (BAT) District

 8             Regional Bus Service in the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) District

 9             Regional Bus Service in the  Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) District

 10           Regional Bus Service in the Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) District

 11           Regional Bus Service in the  Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority (GATRA) District

 12           Regional Bus Service in the Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) District

 13           Regional Bus Service in the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) District

 14           Regional Bus Service in Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Local Bus Service Area

 15           Regional Bus Service in the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) District

 16           Regional Bus Service in the  MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA) District

 17           Regional Bus Service in the Pioneer Valley Regional Transit Authority (PVTA) District

 18           Regional Bus Service in the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) District

 19           Regional Bus Service in the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA)  District

 20           Existing Park-and-Ride Facilities with Private Carrier Bus Service

 21           MassDOT Park-and-Ride Lots with No Regional Bus Service

 22           Bus Access Mode for Boston-Bound Riders

 23           Fares Charged per Mile, by Carrier

 24           Percentage of Passengers Utilizing Multi-Ride Tickets, by Route

 25           Percentage of Regional Bus Passengers Transferring to or from MBTA Rapid Transit System

 26           Boston–Worcester Combined Bus/Commuter Rail Schedule

 27           Arrival and Departures by Day of Week at South Station Bus Terminal

 28           Friday Activity by Gate at South Station Bus Terminal

 29           Activity by Gates Grouped by Affiliated Carriers at South Station Bus Terminal

 30           Activity by Hour (All Gates) at South Station Bus Terminal

 31           Present Peak Vehicle Requirement for Regional Intercity and Commuter Routes with Multiple Stops in Massachusetts

 32           Earliest Arrival Times for City Pairs

 33           Availability of Direct Service to Boston and New York

 34            How Passengers Learned about Regional Bus Service

 35           Reasons for Using Regional Bus

 36           Passenger Demographics: Gender

 37           Passenger Demographics: Age

 38           Passenger Demographics: Household Income

 39           Passenger Ratings of Service Characteristics

 40           Passenger Preferences for Changes to Service












Executive Summary

S.1     Context

Over the past 30 years, the private carrier regional bus network in Massachusetts has seen a reduction in locations served within the state. This coverage contraction, often accompanied by reductions in service frequencies, has occurred in both intercity and commuter bus services. There has also been a decrease in the number of carriers. While these changes reflect to some extent development patterns and car ownership trends, they have been exacerbated by reductions in state-administered subsidy and vehicle finance programs. Continued reductions in service and attrition of regional carriers in the future remain distinct possibilities.

S.2     Study Purpose and Approach

The fundamental purpose of this study is threefold: to gain an increased understanding of regional bus service and its market in Massachusetts, identify issues that have historically prevented the retention or expansion of important services, and suggest measures for making the service better meet the Commonwealth’s needs.

Owing to the large number of carriers and diversity of services, study of the regional bus industry presents unique challenges. In order to create a reasonably complete picture, the present analysis includes three broad areas of investigation:

The trends in travel markets and service strategies examined in this study shed light on today’s service offerings, and they point to possible viable expansions of intrastate regional bus services to reach under- and unserved markets. This study also considers opportunities for improving service in other ways and for retaining valuable routes. In addition, it reviews the potential for regional transit authorities to provide services that feed the intercity bus network, discusses the potential use of the MBTA CharlieCard on intercity and commuter bus services, considers the capital needs of an improved and expanded intercity bus network, including requirements for vehicles, stops, stations, and parking facilities, and discusses funding support.

S.3     Summary of Findings

S.3.1     Coverage

Despite a contraction of the service network over the last 30 years, overall fixed-route coverage in Massachusetts remains good. All urban areas in Massachusetts have direct bus or rail service to Boston, and many also have direct service to New York City. Outside of these two large travel markets, service offerings are less convenient. Trips between many pairs of urban areas (even including New York City and Boston in a few cases) require indirect journeys with multiple trip segments and in some cases different carriers. For example, most trips between Worcester and New York City require changing buses in Hartford, Connecticut. Similarly, the less frequent service between the Berkshire region and eastern Massachusetts limits viable departure time windows available to travelers.

Several communities in the state with reasonable population density presently do not have any fixed-route transit available, notably Clinton, Hudson, Northbridge, and Uxbridge. In the Route 2 corridor between Fitchburg and North Adams, service to Boston can involve multiple transfers, and there is no service at all crossing the Berkshires from Greenfield to North Adams.

The intrastate services operating to and from Boston that have retained the strongest ridership and service frequencies share several key characteristics. They operate primarily along limited-access highways, make a limited number of stops along the route, provide service to both downtown Boston and Logan Airport, make use of parking facilities at the outer end of the route, and operate an extensive schedule, giving riders a large selection of trip choices. Even in corridors with rail service available, bus services with these characteristics have been able to retain and build ridership.

Services discontinued since 1980 in many instances operated along non-limited-access roadways, made multiple local stops, had limited parking available for riders, operated a limited schedule, and did not attract a diverse customer mix that could include commuters, Logan Airport passengers, or travelers connecting with other long distance bus services. Services with these weaknesses that were also near new or expanded rail service were especially vulnerable to ridership loss.

The total average daily ridership on intrastate private carrier bus routes in Massachusetts was over 5,700 in 2011, based on surveys conducted by the Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS). On intrastate and interstate routes together, over 400 round-trips per day operate to or from locations in Massachusetts. That is enough scheduled capacity to carry over 43,000 passengers. Regular route service is one part of the larger motor coach industry, which also operates charters and tours. The American Bus Association estimates that in Massachusetts in 2009 the motor coach tourism industry employed 9,820 workers with a payroll of $371 million.

S.3.2     Equipment

The state is presently acquiring 30 buses, obtained through a competitive FTA program, which will be made available to private carriers on advantageous terms. This bus procurement will both reduce the average age of the private regional bus fleet and make possible the addition of selected services.

The acquisition of 30 buses can be placed in perspective by considering the optimal replacement cycle for coach-type buses. Buses are considered depreciated after 12 years of service. An appropriate average age for a fleet’s buses is six years. If 1/12 of the buses in a fleet are retired (replaced) each year, the average age of its buses will eventually stabilize at six years. The fleet size required to maintain the existing regional bus service in Massachusetts is 95 buses; therefore, reaching and sustaining an average age of about six years would require a replacement rate of approximately eight buses annually.

Bus emissions standards began to tighten significantly in 1994 and have been tightened further periodically since then. The new buses will be appreciably cleaner than most buses now operating, especially those few still operating that are over 20 years in age. Also, all will be accessible to passengers using wheelchairs, a feature becoming prevalent on coach-type buses.

S.3.3    Facilities

A CTPS review of bus stops at commuter park-and-ride facilities found that signage and schedule information identifying the service available was frequently not in place, especially at smaller facilities. Most of the larger parking facilities had schedules and some form of on-site ticketing; however, very few had actual station buildings, and most only had shelters. Many smaller facilities do not have shelters. Park-and-ride facilities at several locations are near or at capacity on typical weekdays.

The Boston end of regional bus trips is either at the intercity bus terminal located at the South Station Transportation Center (commonly referred to as South Station) or at one or more curbside locations. A review of regional commuter bus curbside boarding locations in Boston found that none of them have any signs identifying the service and some did not even have signage identifying the location as a bus stop.

S.3.4    Coordination with Regional Transit Authorities

Regional private carrier buses and regional transit authorities (RTAs) share terminals and service hubs in a number of municipalities, including Barnstable (Hyannis), Fall River, Greenfield, Holyoke, Lowell, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester (as of mid-2013). The common facilities facilitate transfers between the different services. RTA routes also connect with regional private carriers at stops in Framingham and Plymouth.

In the cases of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA), Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA), Pioneer Valley Regional Transit Authority (PVTA), and Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA), private carrier regional service can be used to make local trips entirely within the boundaries of the transit authority service area. While RTA websites frequently have links to the websites of regional carriers that provide service within the RTA service areas, they typically do not provide specific information about those services, despite the fact that they can be utilized for local journeys.

S.3.5    Marketing

Much of the traveling public is unfamiliar with the many regional bus services operating in the commonwealth; an opportunity therefore exists to expand use of this mode through marketing. The widespread use of new Internet and smartphone technologies should be fully exploited to bring passengers into regional buses.

Almost all the regional bus companies have their own websites, and these are accessible through the MassDOT website. However, the powerful, widely used Internet trip-planning application Google Transit currently utilizes the schedule of only one Massachusetts regional carrier.

The sale of MBTA commuter rail tickets via smartphone has proved very popular since its initiation late in 2012. Regional carriers presently do not have smartphone ticketing available, which in addition to selling tickets can support marketing and potential synergies with other bus or rail services.

Bus carriers presently offer deep discounts to riders using multi-ride fare media. On services with large numbers of commuters, the majority of riders utilize discount tickets.

S.3.6    Coordination with Commuter Rail Fare System

There are several communities that have both regional private carrier bus service and MBTA commuter rail service operating to and from Boston. CTPS passenger surveys show that the greatest amount of mixed usage (travelers alternating between the two types of service) takes place between Boston and Worcester. This is also the one corridor where both modes use the same terminal facility at the non-Boston end of the route (Union Station in Worcester), where many commuters park-and-ride or make connections from local transit. A joint-ticketing system (in which a purchased ticket could be used for either bus or rail) would provide more trip choices for riders traveling between the two urban areas. The smartphone ticketing system recently implemented by the MBTA could be a potential method for implementing a joint-ticketing system with private-carrier buses.  .

S.3.7    Coordination with the National Bus Network

Greyhound, Peter Pan, and Plymouth & Brockton are part of the National Bus Traffic Association (NBTA) ticketing network and can sell through-tickets to any location in the national bus network. Acquiring through-ticketing capability is also possible for smaller regional carriers and RTAs.

S.3.8     Funding Available

Massachusetts receives federal §5311(f) funds that are expended exclusively to support intercity bus service. Currently, Plymouth & Brockton receives an operating subsidy for off-season service on outer Cape Cod, and Peter Pan has received capital funds for terminal modernization and vehicles. Other federal grant programs that are also available for other transportation modes might be utilized for regional bus service. An example of using these broader funding programs to support regional bus service is the use of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program funding by New Hampshire to build new regional bus facilities and partially fund the startup of new commuter bus services.

S.3.9    Peer Comparison

Most states now provide §5311(f) operating subsidies to at least one intercity regional carrier in their state. Most private carrier commuter bus operations are in the Northeast, and levels of state support of these services vary greatly, ranging from no support to both capital and operating subsidies.

Massachusetts eliminated operating subsidies for private commuter bus service several years ago. However, capital support is being provided; 30 new buses are being acquired which will be allocated to both commuter routes and longer-distance regional routes.

S.3.10  Boston Terminal Issues

The South Station bus terminal operates close to capacity during peak hours; the available capacity varies by carrier. In most cases, additional commuter trips could only be accommodated during the earlier and later parts of the peak period, but not during the busiest half-hour. Available off-peak capacity at South Station also varies by carrier.

S.3.11  Regulations

Interstate service that crosses state lines has been largely deregulated at the federal level (except for issues of safety and insurance) since 1982. The state still has in place a requirement for carriers to hold Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCNs) for services operating entirely within the state; it has no such requirement for a service that crosses a state line, even if the route provides significant service within the state. There appear to have been very low levels of CPCN requests for new or changed intrastate services in recent years.

Local municipalities can regulate the use of their sidewalks and parking locations, and this has had an impact on curbside boarding in Boston. The City has continued to allow curbside boarding only for commuter routes, which, by their nature, have very short dwell times, and it has taken legal action against intercity carriers attempting to use curbside stops as terminals with longer dwell times.

S.4     Summary of Recommendations

Based on review of existing conditions, trends in travel markets and service strategies, and practices in other states, this study identified possible action items for the Commonwealth to consider for maintaining, improving, and possibly expanding the services constituting the regional bus system: