Windows of Opportunity for Regional Rail: Part I

The Gateway Cities Journal

Earlier this week the Boston Globe featured three op-eds on the promise of regional rail. It’s wonderful that the concept of how we use transportation infrastructure to integrate regional economies and generate more geographically-balanced growth is getting serious attention. And it is timely because a number of near-term policy decisions will have major ramifications for the long-term prospects of regional rail, especially with regard to rail as a transformative economic development strategy for Gateway Cities.

The MBTA’s transition to new Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) technology presents one of the most promising openings. Dubbed AFC 2.0, the new system will allow the agency to better integrate payment on commuter rail and all of the other modes riders may utilize to make their commute (bus, subway, ferry). The agency expects to have the technology fully implemented in 2021. At that time, they are looking to adjust fare structures, taking advantage of this technology’s more dynamic pricing capabilities.

As Gateway City leaders know all too well, the cost of MBTA commuter rail fares makes the service economically infeasible for low-income Gateway City residents. For those most in need of public transit to access jobs, this a cruel reality. (If you live in Fitchburg, you can quite literally lease a luxury Mercedes-Benz for less than it would cost you to purchase a monthly commuter rail pass).

For Gateway City leaders eager to see AFC 2.0 result in a more rational approach to fares, two studies that are just getting underway provide openings. The first analysis was legislatively mandated by provisions tucked into the FY 2019 budget. The language specifically calls on the MBTA to examine the implications of distance-based fares for Gateway Cities. The agency is pulling together a team internally to conduct this analysis with a relatively fast turnaround.

The agency has also issued an RFP to develop a model that will enable richer analysis of the implications of different fare structures for ridership and agency revenues. This work is expected to be complete later next year, with a decision on new fare structures likely in late 2019 or early 2020.

As you can see from the last line on the slide above, the MBTA is looking for feedback on fare structures beginning now and through deployment of AFC 2.0 in 2021. For Gateway City leaders, this is an opportunity to unify and amplify their message on a matter of upmost importance to the future of their communities.


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Housing and Economic Development

A heroic Gateway City leader’s final contribution: On Anne Haynes’ last day before heading off to tackle new challenges in Houston, MassDevelopment publishes an extensive data report on the progress of TDI districts. Improving neighborhood-scale data collection was a key recommendation in MassINC’s 2013 transformative development white paper. With this report, MassDevelopment sets a powerful, new standard.

Staying on the theme of heroics, the Brockton Redevelopment Authority exercises eminent domain for the first time in 40 years to accelerate development of a 52-unit housing project.

The Worcester City Council’s Economic Development Committee approves the Pawtucket Red Sox deal, marking the first of several legislative successes needed for ultimate approval.

The North Shore Medical Center in Salem receives another large round of funding for its robotic surgery program.

Governor Baker announces a rebranding of the state’s workforce development program, now known as MassHire, which will centralize a fragmented network of local career centers across the state.

UMass Lowell moves forward with cutting-edge research on ultra-tough silk manufacturing.

A marijuana dispensary owner in Fall River creates a cryptocurrency he hopes will help business owners avoid the ambiguity created by federal drug law’s relationship with national banks.

A marijuana dispensary owner in Fall River creates a cryptocurrency he hopes will help business owners avoid the ambiguity created by federal drug law’s relationship with national banks.

Governor Baker approves a deal to turn the Lynn Armory into 35 rental apartments for veterans.

A WalletHub study finds that several Gateway Cities rank among the worst housing markets in the United States 

Transportation

A new set of electric vehicle charging ports in Springfield mark a first for Western Massachusetts.



Housing and Economic Development
Congress greenlights $20 million in funding for Positive Train Control for all commuter rail lines, a technology that reduces the risk of train derailment.

Education

The Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants launches a program at Haverhill High School that will help high schoolers get a head start on learning the ropes of the profession.

New Bedford Public Schools goes high-tech, publishing a new app that provides important school information.

Colleges and universities across Massachusetts have banded together to form an education pipeline for current and former inmates to help them reintegrate into society.

The Barr Foundation releases a new series of videos to spur conversation about new models of education.

Governing looks at how holding educators accountable for student graduation rates and grades is prompting many of them to cheat.

The New York Times publishes a lengthy story on efforts to address school segregation in a divided city.

Governance/Creative Placemaking 

Worcester examines the possibility of levying higher property taxes on multi-family housing as a means of raising revenue.

Haverhill launches a new recycling education program.

Leominster shuts down a section of Central Street to let its restaurants spill out into the open.

Colorful crosswalks in Revere will double as works of art and pragmatic safety features.

Communities & People

CommonWealth reports on the role that international politics played in the State Representative race in Lowell.

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