Andrew Spahr missed his Tuesday morning meeting last week. He stood at his usual inbound bus stop at the corner of Main and Harvard streets and waited for Bus 92. He saw one bus turn right at Austin Street, deviating from its regular route down Main Street.
“I thought I was going a little crazy,” he’d later say about seeing the supposedly wayward bus. But then it happened again – the next bus, the same right at Thompson Square and then out of sight. Spahr was less than happy. He had missed his bus and his meeting.
“It was a pain because I got up early to go to a 7:30 a.m. meeting that I was supposed to be at, that I wasn’t at.”
Spahr was not alone in his Tuesday morning commuting conundrum last week. Several other Charlestown commuters along Main Street have been baffled and vexed by Bus 92’s recent detours.
The inbound route has, on occasion, slipped up Austin Street, taken a left onto New Rutherford Avenue and headed downtown. This “diversion” route, as the MBTA calls it, bypasses three stops on the lower part of Main Street to avoid tight squeezes by snow banks and parked cars.
This type of “snow route” is “not uncommon,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. “The buses are diverted if they’re having a hard time navigating the regular route…. If the buses cannot navigate the regular route then the diversion stays in place.”
Pesaturo said these snow routes, or service alerts, are posted on mbta.com when a bus route has to be diverted. He said bus riders have also signed up to receive service alerts on their cell phones or other hand-held mobile devices.
“A lot of people who use the routes that are susceptible to diversions are well aware of snow routes,” said Pesaturo, “so most customers will check mbta.com to see if their route has been declared a snow route.”
But perhaps not everybody. Other Charlestown commuters waiting for Bus 92 Wednesday morning last week said people are not inclined to check the MBTA website before they go to work in the morning.
The mobile service alerts, too, have a pitfall apparently. Bus 92 rider Kathy Marshall said she signed up for bus alerts and has received an alert “every day for the last two months, saying the bus has been diverted, and the buses haven’t been diverted.
“So it’s like crying wolf,” she said. “You never know when they’re going to show up or if they’re not.”
After his commuting quandary, Spahr said he signed up for mobile service alerts right away.
“I didn’t even know about them,” he said. “The first thing I did when I got to work was sign up for the service alerts.”
Although the diversions have been sporadic for the last several weeks, many riders have still been surprised by them, with reactions ranging from irked to angered.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Spahr said last week. “They do it to avoid the snow but all the snow’s melted since last week so there’s plenty of room.”
A main sticking point along the route, according to commuters, has been a left turn the bus takes at City Square. Buses and other large vehicles have been seen stuck there.
But not all commuters are railing against the usually reliable route. Regular riders like Artie and Sheila Davidson, who live at Monument Square, said the bus is usually on time but with the snow people should expect delays.
Kathleen Mellen said she was waiting for the bus recently when an MBTA worker drove by and told her the bus would not be going down Main Street that particular morning. She then walked over to a nearby Route 93 bus stop.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” she said. “It’s nice to have the information when they tell you that it’s not going to come.”
Mellen and other commuters said they have seen MBTA workers driving along the route telling riders the bus would be diverted. These “field inspectors,” said the MBTA’s Pesaturo, have been busy this winter.
“Given the conditions this winter,” he said, “we’ve had dozens and dozens of bus routes around eastern Massachusetts that have been on snow routes so it’s hard to be everywhere at once.”
Other commuters have said they have seen handwritten signs at at least two of the bus stops telling riders there’s a temporary bus detour at Austin Street. Pesaturo said the MBTA doesn’t post handwritten signs at bus stops about detours.
“We wouldn’t do a handwritten sign,” he said, adding that he’d have to see the sign, get a copy of one of them and show it to a bus supervisor to see if it was something that they did.
“If you’re telling me it looks handwritten then it shouldn’t; it should look more professional than that if it came from the MBTA.”
Some commuters just wish there was better communication between the MBTA and riders. Ken Nicosia, who lives on Main Street and rides the 92 to work downtown, recently got caught in the spate of bus diversions.
“It makes you angry because you’re out here early in the morning,” he said. “I ended up standing here for a half hour.” He eventually walked to the Community College T stop.
“It’s not a terrible thing,” he said of his walk to the subway stop, “but if they could just somehow tell us, that’d be nice. We don’t all have mobile apps,” he said with a laugh. “I have an old phone.”
And despite their confounded commutes, bus riders like Nicosia and Spahr can still look back and laugh at their misfortune. Spahr, who eventually marched off to the Community College T stop to get to work that fateful Tuesday morning last week, had at least one upside.
“I walked over to the subway and told them to give me a free ride,” he said. “They gave me one.”