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There’s been a lot of discussion lately regarding Newton’s defunct Nexus Bus system, which ran from 1997 until 2003, and how the disappointing ridership on the Nexus might foreshadow problems with the four-shuttle system being proposed by Northland.

But really, there are major differences between the two systems and the times.

The Nexus Bus* was funded by a federal grant and about $40,000 annually from special permits to businesses like Newton-Wellesley Hospital.  It initially ran three rush hour routes and three midday routes, later consolidated to the two routes seen on the map.  Rides initially cost $0.50 to $1, later they were free.   Ridership never met expectations.  It was mainly used by the elderly and students.  Service was discontinued when the federal grant and political interest ran-out.  Why did it fail to gain ridership?

Nexus was clear failure on frequency: a single bus did each loop in one direction.  Reliability was not recorded, but in pre-tracking app 1979 if you missed the bus or if there was a delay, you’d have no way of knowing.   

In contrast, bus use is growing today in areas where frequency is increased and buses are given priority to reduce travel delays such as, signal timing, bus lanes, and shelters with wifi so passengers can track arrival times.  

In spite of poor reliability ratings, low frequency, and daylight-only hours, over 1,700 people currently use Newton’s crosstown buses (52 & 59) every weekday.  Additionally, Newton has seven private shuttle bus systems, plus specialized public buses, like school buses which can take students but not teachers or other staff to our schools.   

Northland’s proposed self-funded system is very different from Nexus.  They plan to provide four separate, concurrent, shuttle routes, including one that circulates in Newton; one to the Highlands; an express shuttle to Boston; and a second express shuttle to Cambridge. The system will be operated by the 128 Business Council, which has decades of experience successfully operating these types of services. 

All four of Northand’s open-the-to-public shuttles will be wifi enabled and users will be able to track the bus in real time on their smart phones; all features not available in the unpredictable Nexus days.

*Thanks to Lucia Dolan for her research on the Nexus system and for digging up the map.

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