71: Watertown Square - Harvard Station

February 16, 2022

The 71. One of the two MBTA bus routes left with trackless trolleybuses and overhead catenary wires (the other being the 73). The T announced recently that trackless trolleybuses will be permanently taken out of service and retired in March 2022, and will be replaced by diesel buses for 2 years until battery electric buses (BEBs) begin rolling out through the entire MBTA fleet. In light of this announcement, it's time to talk about the 71.

The 71 runs between Harvard in Cambridge, utilizing the underground busway there, to Watertown Square via Mount Auburn St. Zero deviations, just travels straight down Mount Auburn St. Frequencies always stay below every 20 minutes, with 10 - 15 minute headways for most of the day during the week. The route sees 20 minute headways on weekends. Not surprising as the 71 is classified as a Key Bus Route.

The 71 has very good service hours as well. The first trip leaves Harvard at 4:54 am on weekdays, as well as Saturdays, and the last trip arrives at Harvard at 1:45 am the next day. Sunday service begins at Watertown Square at 6:28 am, ending back at Watertown Square at 1:26 am the following day.

When my friend Cedric (also known as Heli in various places throughout this blog) rode this route recently, he noted that mostly locals rode this route on the weekends. Harvard Station is a popular destination for transfers to the Red Line.

Nothing much about the 71 surprised me. When the T switches to BEBs along this route in 2024, there is a slight possibility that service along the 71 and 73 will be expanded. I reached out to Scott Hamwey, Director of Bus Modernization at the MBTA, who is working very closely with the 71 and 73's service modifications and the transition to BEBs. The North Cambridge facility, which currently holds the 28 trolleybuses that operate on the 71 and 73, will be expanding to hold 35 BEBs. The transition from trolleybuses to BEBs is expected to be 1:1, so the additional 7 buses may be used along these routes, but could also be moved around the network depending on service demands in the future.