The Silver Line is a system of bus routes in Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It is operated as part of the MBTA Bus system, but branded as bus rapid transit (BRT) as part of the MBTA subway system. Six routes are operated as part of two disconnected corridors. As of 2019, weekday ridership on the Silver Line was 39,000.
The four Waterfront routes operate out of an underground terminal at South Station and run through the South Boston Piers Transitway – a dedicated bus tunnel through the Seaport District with stations at Courthouse and World Trade Center. At Silver Line Way, they fan out on the surface: the SL1 to Logan International Airport, the SL2 to Design Center, and the SL3 to Chelsea via East Boston. An additional short turn route, SLW, runs only at peak hours between South Station and Silver Line Way. The Waterfront routes use articulated dual-mode buses that operate as electric trolleybuses in the Transitway and conventional diesel buses on the surface. Two routes operate on Washington Street between Nubian Square station (at Nubian Square in Roxbury) and Downtown Boston. The SL5 terminates at Downtown Crossing and the SL4 on the surface at South Station. The Washington Street routes use articulated diesel hybrid buses.
The Washington Street corridor was built to replace the Washington Street Elevated, which was used by the Orange Line rapid transit line until 1987. Initial plans called for a light rail branch of the Green Line, but trolleybuses and later CNG buses were substituted. Planning began in 1987 for mass transit to serve the growing Seaport; a new transit tunnel called the South Boston Piers Transitway was chosen in 1989. It was to run from Boylston to World Trade Center via Chinatown and South Station, though the Boylston–South Station section was later deferred as a separate phase. In 1999, the MBTA designated the Washington Street and Transitway projects as the Silver Line, and planned for the Boylston tunnel extension to include a portal to Washington Street for through-running. Service improvements on Washington Street began in 2001. After years of delays, service through the $624 million Transitway began on December 17, 2004.
The connecting tunnel (Phase III) was cancelled in 2010 due to rising costs; a surface route (SL4) was introduced the previous year. The original SL3 route to City Point was discontinued on March 20, 2009. A separate SL3 route to Chelsea – originally planned as part of the cancelled Urban Ring Project – began service on April 21, 2018. Several other Silver Line extensions have been proposed, as has a conversion of the Washington Street corridor to light rail, but most have not been pursued. The Silver Line has been the target of criticism by riders and transportation planners. Much of the system is missing BRT Standard features such as enforced dedicated lanes, off-vehicle fare collection, sheltered stations, and transit signal priority.
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