Two of the more visible steps in the reformation of the area’s public bus service—a new look and name—were formally inaugurated Friday.
The rollout of the bright and colorful buses under the banner of Merrimack Valley Transit—or MeVa, for short—is part of Administrator Noah S. Berger’s aim to make the nearly half-century old bus service more modern, relevant and responsive to current consumer needs.
“Unfortunately, our buses look just a little too much like mail trucks. No disrespect for the postal service, but that’s not the look we’re going for,” Berger told state and local leaders and bus passengers Friday morning at a ceremony at the John Joseph Buckley Transportation Center in Lawrence. (See photograph below.)
WHAV reported early in August of plans to rebrand the bus service. “MeVa Transit is spiffier, easier to say and we believe more inviting,” Berger said at the time. The Haverhill-based bus service was created in 1974 as the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority.
Rep. Christina A. Minicucci expressed the most enthusiasm about the facelift. “We made it socially sensitive. We have great colors on these buses. The music is coming next, I hear,” she said to laughter from the crowd. She added, “If you haven’t ridden these days, this is not like riding a yellow school bus. This is great. This is like going on a luxury liner,” she said.
With the redesign, Berger also aimed to make the service more welcoming by eliminating the plethora of negative dos and don’ts passengers used to see when boarding. He also updated access signage, saying public transportation is a lifeline for 20% of the population that lives with a disability.
Berger, who arrived a little more than a year ago, said his primary task has been to improve service. He noted last year that while many existing riders are familiar with how to flag down a bus, it may be “intimidating” for others who do not know where to stand or which bus and when it drives by.
Plans now call for well-marked shelters similar to the one installed last year on River Street in Haverhill near Westgate Center. He has also initiated route changes such as having the Haverhill-Amesbury bus make stops at elderly apartments, physicians’ offices, food assistance and the post office, and bringing service to Groveland town hall for the first time.
With ridership dropping dramatically during the pandemic, buses became fare free last spring for a trial period.
The bus service has been the focus of criticism for decades as city and town representatives to the Authority seemingly turned a blind eye to complaints over unmarked bus stops and confusing routes. As service languished, the public accused the agency of darkening bus windows to conceal the system’s falling ridership.