The LRTA: Reliably Unreliable

Alejandro Bonilla

A young student, about 15, stands at the foot of St. Margaret’s Church near the corner of Stevens and D Streets. Having only been in person at Lowell High for only a month, getting comfortable with the daily commute is still a challenge. About 6 feet away from her stands a senior, about 16 or 17, dressed in all black with an unwelcoming expression on his face. The time is about 7:20, and both of them have a single objective: get to Lowell High School, and get there on time. This goal, albeit a very mundane one, is a massive dice roll for these two, as well as for many other students who rely on the Lowell Regional Transit Authority for their daily commute.


The time is 7:30. Traffic begins to settle down as the Daley and Morey begin their school days. The two students at the stop still remain about 2 miles away from being able to start theirs. The bus is 15 minutes late. Fear begins to build up within them as they realize the imminent possibility that they would arrive late to school. A bus passes by: “4 – Highlands via Stevens,” it reads, heading outbound toward the Cross Point Towers. The instant the bus flies by is the instant that both students understand their predicament.


The preceding bus, meant to bring students directly to Lowell High School, never embarked on its route. The road suddenly splits into two as the students are forced to decide whether to begin the 40-minute walk to the school or wait it out for the next bus. The underclassman begins to walk; the senior decides to stay.


The time is 7:35. The chilly morning air doesn’t affect the senior as his blood begins to boil. He, like hundreds of other students, spends $25 monthly to ride these buses. He works twelve hours a week, and with having to save for college and the hefty expenses of supporting his life of music, the monthly budget is very tight. The idea of so many people shoving more and more money into this service just to receive nonexistent communication regarding schedule changes, he thought, is unacceptable and undeniably exploitative.


The time is now 7:40. The senior enters the Kennedy Center-bound bus along with several peers who also hopelessly waited for a bus that would never come. The driver is kind enough to inform them of the situation: one of the other routes did not have a driver for their school tripper that morning, so one from the Highlands route was relocated without notice. The general response to this knowledge was damning: Oh well; that’s the LRTA for you; I’d be concerned if it were on time. 

Users of the LRTA have to pay for a system that is unorganized, underserved, and unreliable. Most of these students will have to enter the school tardy for reasons entirely out of their control; for some, this could be the difference between passing and failing an exam with the time they could have spent studying in the building. When you hand over your $25 each month to recharge your CharlieCard, your only guarantee is that there is no guarantee: no guarantee on communication, no guarantee on punctuality, and no guarantee that you can even ride the buses you paid for.