Tuesday
Feb102015

Massachusetts' TMAs: Doing More With Less 

At the beginning of 2015, the Boston Globe published an article on key transportation initiatives which planning groups would like newly elected Governor Charlie Baker to consider, referred to as a "transit wish list" and including  projects such as the MBTA Green Line Extension,South Coast Rail, Silver Line Gateway and CrossTown Connect. While positioning the numbers necessary to fund  projects like these against the financial resources currently available in our state budget can be daunting and even paralyzing, it can also be inspiring and even empowering to recognize the innovative moves many communities have already made to address transportation challenges through the means of TMAs.

TMAs are public-private partnerships which generate enormous public benefits at minimal public price tags. The example of the CrossTown Connect TMA is just one of over a dozen which currently exist in Massachusetts where municipalities and local business communities have banded together to serve the needs of both urban and suburban commuters . MassCommute, the statewide coalition of 12 TMAs , works collaboratively with the state on advancing transportation solutions and reducing single occupancy vehicle trips.

Driven by goals of greenhouse gas reduction, traffic relief and wellness, the programs and services provided by these TMAs range from shuttles (including reverse commute), to vanpools, to rideshare matching to bike/walk incentives.  What makes them unique from other commuter service programs is that they are created in a collaborative fashion by diverse community stakeholders in direct response to the transportation gaps in their geographic area.

By leveraging modest government funding with significant private sector investments, these TMAs are able to provide transportation services that not only improve and enhance existing public transportation but effectively close connectivity gaps without additional public expenditures.  In Massachusetts, for example, our Department of Transportation's modest investment in the TMAs of MassCommute yielded the following returns in 2013:

 

  • 1,263,507 fewer vehicle trips generated
  • 4,673,507 lbs of CO2 emissions reduced
  • 495,065 gallons of gas saved
  • $2,156,143 put back into the pockets of commuters
  • 5,446,796 shuttle boardings (made possible by a $14,089,583 private investment).

 

At a time when public resources in Massachusetts are dwindling almost as fast as transportation infrastructure is crumbling, TMAs can be panaceas for local and state governments looking to "do more with less" (a familiar phrase from Governor Baker's campaign rhetoric). But to do more for our existing and unmet transportation needs without generating new sources of revenue will require bold and innovative ideas from both the public and private sectors, which is precisely what TMAs are structured to do. Our coalition  looks forward to working with the Baker Administration to support and promote TMAs so that the goals of transportation options and regional mobility are never relegated to a wish list.

 

 

Sunday
Feb012015

Late Night T Service Threatened Despite Popularity 

Today's Boston Globe revealed that the fate of late night MBTA service is uncertain, despite its popularity amongst riders. Launched as a one-year pilot program in March 2014, the late night service extended the hours of operation for all MBTA subway lines and 15 key bus routes to approximately 2:30AM on Friday and Saturday nights. As this pilot period comes to an end, it appears that a combination of state funding shortfalls and lack of business and political support- not ridership- are steering the future of the service into question.   

A public survey initiated by MassCommute in the fall of 2014 found overwhelming support and enthusiasm for the late night service. From a pool of about 500 respondents, the Red and Green Lines were the most popular services, and many respondents reported using the service not just to get home from a night on the town but for commuting from night jobs, particularly in the service and medical sectors, and late flights from Logan Airport. Some of our favorite responses from the survey:

"This service is absolutely essential to keep me living in Boston/Cambridge and for this city to truly call itself a world-class global city like Chicago, NY, and many others."-Student

"I often have critical experiments that extend into the late night, or need late-night check-ins. I also am living cross-country from my husband and children and have flights that arrive to the airport late at night, leaving me having to take an expensive taxi ride. I have been waiting for Boston to extend their service to late night. Please keep this important service available!"-Research Scientist

"It made traveling from school and work much safer because I would get out of work past midnight. I didn't have to spent 45 minutes walking to Brighton from Fenway. Again it made weekends much easier on me, I could enjoy exploring the city late without having to worry about transportation options or walking back home."- Research Assistant/ Cafeteria Worker

Now with over 860,000 weekend rides logged, transportation officials are hinting that they may push the late night program to the chopping block in order to help cover a $765 million deficit in the state’s budget. Private sector support to help cover the costs of the $13 million pilot has been insufficient, even though it is large corporations that ultimately benefit from the service by attracting and retaining young talent and meeting the transportation needs of employees.

As an organization committed to supporting and providing transportation options for commuters and increasing accessibility to transit, MassCommute is highly concerned about the potential loss of late night T service. We hope to help shape the conversation over the coming months with transportation officials and the new Baker Administration to preserve what is a powerful asset to Boston's economic base and quality of life for both commuters and residents Boston. 

Thursday
Jan012015

Good News, Too Late: Congress Passes Retroactive Tax Extension for Transit Commuters

Before closing for the year, the 113th Congress passed legislation that comes with both good news & bad news for commuters:

Good news: The legislation extends over fifty tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013 and retroactively extends them for 2014. Included in these provisions is the transit benefit that will rise from $130/month to $250/month.

Bad news: The legislation does not extend these provisions into 2015. 

What does this mean for commuters? Sadly, not very much. The action taken has no impact on 2015 and will not help the majority of commuters for 2014 unless they elected to withhold funds above the cap. Still, it is a step in the right direction in that the legislation recognizes the value of providing tax benefits to transit riders and at least the same level as drivers. More