Boston University Statehouse Program
A version of this article was published in The MetroWest Daily News.
BOSTON — A report released last week found an overwhelming 73 percent of MetroWest participants in a regional discussion strongly agreed that “a much better transportation system for everybody should be an even higher priority for elected officials than it is today.”
MassMoves, a report produced in conjunction with the Massachusetts Senate’s Commonwealth Conversations project, spoke with over 500 interested residents from nine regions of the state in workshops aimed at sparking discussion over how to improve public transportation. The surveys were completed from Jan. 31 to April 11.
MetroWest residents were asked to rate the statewide and regional transportation systems on a scale of 1-4, poor to excellent. Statewide transportation was rated at 1.7 and the regional transportation at 1.8. On average, none of the nine regions viewed the condition of their regional transportation to be good or excellent, according to the report.
Rep. Chris Walsh, D-Framingham, who did not attend the session, said improving the public transportation system is one of his highest priorities.
“The conundrum really is that people are unwilling to do the kinds of things to make [better transportation systems] happen,” said Walsh. “We need to talk about the value of these things, people have got to start thinking ahead in terms of what do we need to put now in the ground so that in 25 years, 30 years, or 50 years we have a system that actually works”
On average participants said the two most important transportation goals were helping economic growth and ensuring public transportation is affordable, with the biggest concern for bus service.
MetroWest residents saw repair and maintenance as the most important strategy to achieve this as opposed to expanding public transportation or operating on longer hours.
To improve bus service, participants recommended “multi-modal interchanges,” that connect rail to buses; smaller on-demand bus and van service; and bus rapid transit” to connect the “last-mile” between transit stations and work or home.
Walsh also sees the need for high speed trains in the Commonwealth, and to “connect northern New England with the rest of the country in terms of the North-South Rail Link.” He said he is willing to look at either a gas tax hike or open road tolling for funding.
Participants also recommended raising transportation revenue through “carbon taxes, dynamic tolling, and taxing trucks.”
The Massachusetts gasoline tax was raised from 21 cents to 24 cents per gallon in 2013. The legislation included a provision to tie the tax to the rate of inflation, but voters opted to repeal that inflation index in a 2014 ballot initiative.
According to the report, the MBTA receives about $1 billion annually from the state sales tax and around $600 million annually from fares paid by T riders. However, even with this funding, over a period of 10 years MassDOT has estimated a $1.7 billion gap in needs for vehicular travel.
“That’s not even to do anything substantial, that’s just to keep things running,” said Walsh on the gap. “We suffer from this problem that we have very early transportation systems, and because we have those things people are unwilling to say ‘what do we have to do to make them better?’”
“We should be able to have a fast, modern, efficient public transportation system which will take a lot of load off the highway system,” said Walsh. However, he said the problem is people are “unwilling to wait more than 15-20 minutes for public transportation and prefer to drive in traffic.”
Walsh warns if we do not act now, “we will find that companies and people will eventually move away.”