NEW BEDFORD — Commuter buses headed for Boston will leave their South Coast stations for the last time next month.

The DATTCO SouthCoast-Boston Express bus route will end service on April 16 because of declining ridership, the company announced.

“We just can’t afford to keep running a loss,” said Dennis Lyons, a vice president at the company. “We’ve been running a loss for years.”

Ridership on the route had been dropping even before the pandemic, Lyons said. With more people now working from home, demand is even lower and it can be hard to predict from day to day. About 200 people a day took the bus each way in the before times, but now it’s no more than 65 passengers, and sometimes it’s as few as 35. 

Fares would have to double for the company to break even, Lyons said, but that would drive ridership down even further.

“We’re sorry that we just can’t continue to subsidize public transit,” he said. “It’s not the business we’re in.”

On some days at the height of the pandemic, fewer than a dozen people rode the route. But DATTCO kept the buses going, Lyons said, because many of its longtime riders were firefighters, nurses, and lab technicians — essential workers. He recognized their names on passenger lists dating back to the 1990s.

“We probably held out longer than we should have in terms of fiscal responsibility of the business,” he said.

New Bedford is expected to get two MBTA commuter rail stops at the end of the year, which Lyons said were going to put the bus route out of business anyway. But the trains won’t arrive for months, and that’s if the infamously long-delayed project does finish on time.

In a statement, Mayor Jon Mitchell said he was “troubled” that the company only gave three weeks’ notice.

“Equally inexcusable is DATTCO’s lack of any engagement with the City, which would have been open to discussions regarding the possible takeover of affected routes by another carrier in a way that provides for a seamless transition,” Mitchell stated.

Both DATTCO and the city asked MassDOT to continue the bus service until commuter trains start running, but the department said it couldn’t help.

“As much as MassDOT would like to see the commuter service continue, it does not have an existing funding source to support these service operations and is unable to provide any assistance at this time,” a MassDOT spokesperson said in a statement.

In the meantime, riders like David Conroy are left wondering how to bridge the gap.

“It just seems that they shouldn’t cut off the bus service until train service becomes regular,” he said. “It’s going to cause a disruption to many people’s lives.”

Conroy, who is “semi-retired,” works two days a week at the Harvard Coop bookstore in Cambridge. He used to drive there from New Bedford, but two years ago he decided to rely on public transit instead of buying a new car as a way of saving money. Now, he thinks he may have to quit his job.

Jazmin Barrows was one of only six people waiting to board the 3 p.m. bus at the New Bedford bus station on Tuesday. How will she make it to her night shift job in Boston now that the buses are going away?

“That’s a good question,” she said. Barrows doesn’t own a car and said it’s too expensive to get there from the nearest commuter rail station.

Another woman waiting for the bus who declined to give her name said she will now have to drive to get her chemotherapy treatments in Boston.

“You can’t cry over spilt milk,” she said. “But they should give us more time.”

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  1. Shuttlebus service to and from Middleborough-Lakeville commuter rail would help people in the short term and might encourage more people to use the train when it does finally get to New Bedford.

    1. Great idea.

      How do we get a shuttle bus service to and from the Middleborough-Lakeville commuter rail to happen?

  2. A coalition of suburban bus companies leveraged a settlement payment out of the MBTA when the Old Colony RR opened back in the late 90’s. This litigation arose out of MBTA’s implementation of the Old Colony Railroad Rehabilitation Project. As a result of that project, MBTA entered into a 13.7 million dollar settlement agreement with SEMPCA, an organization consisting of six transportation companies adversely affected by the Old Colony Project. Wonder if DATTCO can pursue a similar strategy?

  3. >“It just seems that they shouldn’t cut off the bus service until train service becomes regular,” he said. “It’s going to cause a disruption to many people’s lives.”< At least 65/day…

  4. Seems like a crappy decision by DATCO to leave its declining but loyal riders in the lurch w so little notice.If their business was bleeding for so long WHY didn’t they partner w rhe city to see what could be done until rail service arrives? I agree with Beth Lucey see if MTA can provide shuttle bus service to Lakeville station I think they had a similar arrangement several yrs,ago but not many riders,because of bus to Boston That was then this is now!

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