Where equity gaps are deepest, we need more patience

The Gateway Cities Journal

Where equity gaps are deepest, we need more patience

In the most recent FMCB meeting, board chair Joe Aiello called out the one week fare decrease on the commuter rail from Lynn to North Station. The mitigation has had tremendous success during blue line construction. However, the MBTA has not committed to extending that fare decrease to encourage more ridership between Lynn and Boston.

The hesitancy to extend that fare decrease at a time when more service is needed to alleviate crowding on transit for essential workers demonstrates how current policies are constraining our ability to think about equitable access to transportation. This is just one of three key policy areas where equity is greatly needed, which we point out in our latest report, From Transactional to Transformational: The Case for Equity in Gateway City Transit-Oriented Development.

We know that the pandemic has the typical commuter rail rider working from home, which is the rationale that the T has used to put commuter rail service at the bottom of the priority list in its service recovery strategy. However, we, among others, have been pushing for transformation of commuter rail into regional rail-a service that provides fast, bidirectional, frequent, all day service for riders beyond white collar workers. Blue collar and service workers also need to get to work at hours that don’t always align with peaks. With these workers suffering the largest share of job losses, they need as many transportation options as possible to find new employment. And with just 15% of pre-pandemic travel attributed to commuting, the vast majority of the travelers are not being served by higher-speed transit like rail.

Many low- and moderate-wealth residents live in communities that connect to commuter rail stations but cannot afford to ride the train.We’ve discussed in detail why lower fares could improve ridership on existing rail and buses: the T’s own Weekend Fare campaign highlighted that success, and we’re grateful that the team has standardized fares across payment types, eliminating differentials between cash and Charlie card payments. But more needs to be done to close the gap of the extra 64-hours a year that black, brown, and poor riders spend riding slower transit.

The example of the blue line mitigation that improved commuter rail service from Lynn is representative of our limited thinking and lack of vision when it comes to using the pandemic’s lessons to improve equity across the Commonwealth. In the report, we talk about how patient capital is a key tool for investing in weak markets: returns will be slow in areas where equity gaps are deepest, and we have to be prepared to roll up our sleeves and be patient. The same is true of ridership on transit. It’s going to take more than a week to see ridership gains from new transit users thanks to fare modifications and service improvements. Even a year might not be enough, especially since experts point to a multi-year economic and public health recovery.

For equity to be a part of transportation policy – or any policy area – we must be patient and focus on the process, not instant results. Anything less, and we’ll wind up back where we started: a status quo economic expansion with widening equity gaps. In his annual address before the Greater Boston Chamber last week, Speaker DeLeo pledged to move forward with a bold transportation financing package this session. This was welcome news. Legislative leadership will be critical to positioning the state’s transportation networks to help shape an equitable recovery.

COVID-19 Response 

Brockton‘s postal service headquarters deals with a slew of packages from click-happy locals stuck at home.
The Prince Henry Society of Fall River hosts a radiothon to raise money for coronavirus relief.
New Bedford will give free masks to all residents who want one through a partnership with the American Red Cross and Joseph Abboud.
The steelworkers union in Pittsfield passes out meals.
Summer jobs at Worcester parks, pools, and cemeteries will be funded but there is no hiring.
Episode 58: Actionable ideas for equitable small business recovery

Housing and Economic Development

Fitchburg’s city hall project moves forward despite delays.
City officials and local leaders help restaurants in Haverhill prepare to reopen for outdoor dining. Mayor James Fiorentini announces a plan to help the downtown area bounce back from virus setbacks.
The first settlement checks – averaging more than $8,000 – go out to residents of Lawrence harmed by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions.
New Bedford ice cream shops are creating new systems to serve customers under current restrictions.
Worcester forms a back-to-work committee.
Massachusetts is now offering extended unemployment benefits – 13 more weeks after a claimant’s initial 30-week benefits period runs out.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo announces new committees to focus on economic recovery and childcare.


new runway opens at the Fitchburg Municipal Airport.
New Bedford searches for a new mobile parking app.
The city council in Worcester endorses temporary speed humps on residential streets.
As the state’s economy reopens, the MBTA intends to manage COVID-19 ridership risks with policies that strongly encourage but don’t mandate social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. A Better City offers its own guidance on how to travel safely
NACTO releases a report on streets for pandemic response and recovery.


A new article from MassINC explores why community college is key to rethinking higher education.
Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in
Fall River faces the challenges of teaching trades remotely.
When schools open, Haverhill‘s mayor worries that buses won’t operate due to a debate over payments during the school closure. Meanwhile, Whittier High School plans an in-person, socially distant graduation for its seniors.
Massachusetts’ Teacher of the Year, who hails from New Bedford, reflects on the challenges of remote learning.
Pittsfield public schools are expecting a cut in aid from the state.
Commonwealth looks at the remote learning challenges teachers and parents face in Gateway Cities.
The Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation pledges $5 million to support early education providers.
The Rennie Center publishes a Back-to-School Blueprint.


Creative Placemaking

The Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River live streams concerts from its venue to its YouTube channel for free with the option of donation.
The Fitchburg Art Museum announces the winners of its virtual contest, ‘Art in Bloom.’
Haverhill launches a new artist residency program in an attempt to promote arts in the community while adhering to coronavirus guidelines.

Communities & People

Fall River native Timothy Shea will head the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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