• Re-examining gas tax could provide funding for upgrading commuter-rail system

    The majority of Massachusetts residents apparently are all for dramatically improving the state’s commuter-rail system.

    As long as it’s not on their dime.

    That’s essentially the conclusion of a MassINC survey of 1,430 Bay State residents published last week.

    Respondents overwhelming supported several ambitious projects, including the North-South Rail Link, the South Coast Rail project, and extending commuter —  rail service west to Springfield and Pittsfield.

    In addition to these infrastructure improvements, nearly 85% of those surveyed want a wholesale overhaul of the rail’s delivery system, which would entail replacing the existing diesel fleet with electric-powered trains.

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  • Mass. Residents Want More Commuter Rail Service And Lower Fares, Poll Finds

    Massachusetts residents want a lot more commuter rail service, including more frequent trains and expanded service throughout the state, according to a new MassINC poll (topline resultscrosstabs).

    The poll found 76% of residents support moving the commuter rail toward a “regional rail” system. In this type of system, there would be trains every 15 to 30 minutes, day and night and on weekends, so people could use the commuter rail for more than just riding to and from work.

    More than two-thirds of residents also want the commuter rail extended to western Massachusetts, the South Coast — including Fall River and New Bedford — and to southern New Hampshire. And 81% of poll respondents want the long-discussed North-South rail link, which would connect North and South stations in Boston.

    “Residents think that the rail system in Massachusetts as it’s currently constructed could do more and that there’s space for rail to go to more places than it does now,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group.

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  • Poll Tests Mass. Residents’ Appetite For Transpo Projects And Funding

    A majority of residents want to see significant improvements to the commuter rail system, but they also believe the costs should not be passed along to commuters in the form of higher fares or an increased gas tax, according to a new poll.

    Proposals such as a North-South Rail Link, the South Coast Rail project, and extending the commuter rail west to Springfield and Pittsfield all saw support of 75 percent or more in a MassINC poll of 1,430 Massachusetts residents published Thursday.

    The most popular among those was replacing the existing diesel fleet with electric trains: 84 percent of residents polled said they strongly or somewhat support the idea, which is included in a handful of options an MBTA panel is exploring for the future of the commuter rail system.

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  • Lynn appeals for commuter rail service at subway prices

    Lynn, though, is a Zone 2 stop, which costs $7 each way. In a recent report, MassINC specifically highlighted the city as one area where commuter rail prices leave public transportation out of reach as an option for many residents.

    ”We could use that transportation option in Lynn,” Capano told the T’s board. “It would give us economic opportunity. Transportation can definitely help with that and reduce congestion on the way into Boston.”

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  • Report: high commuter rail fares holding back growth in Brockton

    BROCKTON — Transit advocates say a reformed commuter rail system could spread growth from Boston into the region’s smaller cities, but with higher-frequency service still a distant possibility, a new policy brief from MassINC makes the case for a quicker fix: charging less money for a ticket.

    Though the train takes only 35 minutes to reach downtown Boston on a good day, a majority of Brockton’s public transit riders still prefer a bus that can take two or three times as long at rush hour, according to the latest data from regional transit authorities in both cities.

    MassINC argues in its new report, “Prioritizing Equitable Growth Through Fare Policy,” that much of that choice is based on cost.

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  • Our View: Lower fares from gateway cities

    Solving the state’s transportation woes will involve major upgrades to the rail network, which shuttles thousands of commuters in and out of Greater Boston every day. But as state transportation planners evaluate what needs to be done, the think tank MassINC contends the state has to look at making commuter rail fares more affordable to avoid shutting out low- and- moderate-income riders.

    The problem is most serious in Massachusetts’ so-called “gateway cities”, including Lawrence, Haverhill, Salem, Lowell and Lynn on the North Shore. MassINC issued a report in August citing what has long been a “spatial mismatch” between urban neighborhoods and suburban job centers. That mismatch “has reduced wages, lowered labor force participation, and distorted labor markets in other ways that have been especially harmful to communities of color,” according to the report.

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  • Report suggests commuter rail is unaffordable for residents of Gateway Cities

    A new study released by the nonprofit Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth suggests that many potential commuters in Gateway Cities like Fitchburg and Lowell can’t afford the state’s commuter rail.

    “A new commuter rail fare policy is also vital to ensuring that future development in Gateway Cities produces equitable outcomes,” the report states.

    MassInc has published various reports on improving transportation, schools, career opportunities and more in Gateway Cities, most located far from Boston.

    Elizabeth Haney, Dr. Tracy Corley, and Ben Forman, authors of the study, suggest that reducing fares for low-income and moderate-income riders who may not otherwise use the train could increase ridership and help residents of gateway communities find higher-pay work, leading to statewide fiscal gains.

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  • Study: High fares make commuter rail too costly for many residents

    As housing costs force low and moderate income residents to look far outside the Boston area, the cost of using commuter rail trains to get to jobs in Boston remains out of reach for many of those residents, according to a new study.

    The study from the public policy think tank MassINC notes that a trip to Boston from Worcester can total more than $4,600 a year (at $12.25 each way) for a regular commuter during the workday. That’s more than 13 percent of the median household income in Worcester, the state’s second largest city. Meanwhile, many commuters from Boston’s more affluent suburbs pay less than 2 percent of their median household income.

    The high costs, based on distance with fares split into “zones,” hinder ridership among low income residents living near an MBTA commuter rail line, according to the study.

    “This disconnect between proximity and utilization is particularly striking in Lynn, where two-thirds of station area residents are low-income and yet low-income riders account for just 7 percent of those boarding at the Lynn commuter rail station,” the study says.

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  • Study: Mass. Residents In Gateway Cities Are Priced Out Of Public Transit

    A new study from MassINC finds that many residents in the state’s gateway cities can’t afford to use the commuter rail — and in effect lack access to major job centers and economic opportunities elsewhere in the state.

    The study looked at access to commuter rail service in Massachusetts’ gateway cities — defined by state law as midsize municipalities where the median household income and rates of a bachelor’s degree (or above) are below the state average.

    The study finds that commuter rail fares make up a larger percent of median household incomes in gateway cities than in more affluent suburbs closer to Boston. For example, the cost of traveling to Boston from Fall River is $4,656 yearly — about 15% of the city’s median household income — compared to Winchester, where the cost of riding the commuter rail yearly amounts to just 2% of the city’s median household income.

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  • Is the Commuter Rail too expensive in Massachusetts?

    Is the Commuter Rail too expensive in Massachusetts?

    A new report by MassINC finds the cost of fares on MBTA Commuter Rail trains makes it hard for low- and moderate-income residents of Gateway Cities to use public transit to get to work.

    Today, one-way fares between Gateway Cities and Boston range from $7 in Lynn to $12.25 in Worcester. For a Worcester resident working full-time, this translates to $4,656 a year, or 13% of the city’s median household income. The cost of a monthly pass is $388 in Worcester.

  • Commuter rail not affordable for residents of Worcester, other Gateway Cities, study finds

    As the state evaluates major upgrades to its rail network, a new study finds residents of Worcester and other Gateway Cities are “priced out” of commuter rail. It recommends methods such as discounts for off-peak travel and reverse commuting and piloting income-based fares to increase fare equity, grow ridership, and spur equitable economic development in Gateway Cities.

    “Realizing the potential of Gateway City (transit-oriented development) will require complementary changes to both development policy and transit policy,” a new report by MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank in Boston, said. “On the transit side of the equation, a new, more equitable commuter rail fare framework should be priority No. 1.”

    The report, “Prioritizing Equitable Growth Through Fare Policy,” argues for a shift in the way the commuter rail network measures fare equity. Instead of charging the highest fares for those who travel the farthest, the system would use a more data-driven, income-based fare policy.

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  • Commuter rail fares a heavy cost for many in Worcester, Fitchburg

    The MBTA commuter rail may free up some time for relaxing or working on the way in and out, but the price is far out of reach for many, according to a report Thursday by MassINC, a Boston think tank that focuses much of its work on the state’s Gateway Cities, including Worcester and Fitchburg.

    A monthly pass to and from Worcester’s Union Station or Fitchburg’s commuter rail station costs $4,656 a year, the highest of any end-of-line Massachusetts station in the system, according to MassINC. Even those not commuting all the way into Boston have high costs: $2,352 a year to go from Fitchburg to Waltham, and $1,668 from Worcester to Framingham.

    “Most residents are unable to make this significant expenditure in a single payment — if they can afford it at all,” the report says.

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  • Fewer prisoners, lower crime

    Ben Forman is research director at the think tank MassINC, which has done pioneering work in criminal justice issues. He points especially to changes in juvenile sentencing as key to both the state’s smaller prison population and lowered crime overall. That’s partly due to what Forman calls the “criminogenic” effects of incarceration: The prison environment itself hardens criminal behaviors and increases the likelihood of recidivism. “We have moved away dramatically from the incarceration of youth,” he says, and towards alternative services and probation. “You prevent the formation of a career criminal.”

    Given the dizzying annual cost of incarceration — at least $55,000 per inmate — you would think that state Department of Corrections budgets would be falling along with the prison population. But no: MassINC found that combined prison and sheriff department budgets have increased 25 percent since 2011.

    Forman and other advocates want to see not just criminal justice reform, but reinvestment. One example: The current fiscal year budget includes $25 million for community corrections centers operated by the once-tarnished department of probation. With new leadership, these 18 centers are now offering intensive services from education and employment counseling to behavioral therapy, substance abuse treatment, and domestic violence prevention. Given that 500 people come home from prison every year in the city of Lawrence alone, the need for constructive re-entry programs seems obvious. More, please.

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  • Nashoba Tech students advocate for early college

    Staff and students from Nashoba Valley Technical High School recently attended an Investing in Early College advocacy day at the Statehouse in Boston.

    The forum, sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, was held to raise awareness of the success of early-college programs, like the ones offered at Nashoba Tech.

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  • Moulton, housing advocates eye transit-oriented development

    Moulton, a Salem Democrat and advocate for public transportation and rail travel, met Monday with Harborlight Community Partners Executive Director Andrew DeFranza, Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance Executive Director Andre Leroux, and Tracy Corley, transit-oriented development fellow at MassINC, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, to talk about transit-oriented development…

    Corley said there is wider discussion among state transportation officials about the vision of the existing commuter rail, which was designed to shuttle people to and from 9-to-5 jobs in downtown Boston. There is talk of increasing the frequency of trains and having all-day service. To justify the expansion, she said, it would make sense to add both housing and jobs near commuter rail stations.

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  • Lynn Forum Focuses on Transformative Transit-Oriented Development

    McGee spoke at Wednesday afternoon’s North Shore Massachusetts Transformative Transit-Oriented Development Regional Forum, at the Lynn Museum and hosted by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), which has released a report on the topic. The discussion was moderated by Essex Media Group (publisher of The Daily Item) Community Relations Director Carolina Trujillo.

    In the report, “The Promise and Potential of Transformative Transit-Oriented Development in Gateway Cities,” the executive summary reads that gateway cities can accommodate thousands of new housing units and thousands of new jobs on the vacant and underutilized land surrounding their commuter rail stations. The walkable, mixed-use urban land offers an ideal setting for a transit-oriented development.

    Dr. Tracy Corley, a transit-oriented development fellow for MassInc., said their research focused on 13 of 26 gateway cities and what could be done within a half mile of commuter rail stations, which could create the potential of 140,000 new jobs.

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  • Krause: Time is Ticking on Transportation Plan

    Wednesday, officials from MassINC — a non-profit dedicated to promoting public policy that creates a pathway to opportunity for Massachusetts residents — were in Lynn to promote the TTOD initiative.

    That would be a marvelous idea, if Lynn was served by a 21st century transit system. It isn’t. In fact, the commuter rail that passes by here once an hour is archaic. And it’s basically useless. If I work on State Street, or somewhere else in the financial district of Boston, getting off a train at North Station, behind the Boston Garden, is not making my commute any easier.

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  • Strengthening K-12 education system through collaboration

    The SouthCoast Development Partnership hosted a panel on Tuesday regarding public education in Massachusetts to look at the pipeline from pre-K to the business world. Featuring public officials and educators, the panel discussed how collaboration can strengthen the Commonwealth’s education system, according to a press release from the organization.

    Educational Attainment is one of the focus areas of the Partnership.

    MassINC’s Research Director, Ben Forman, presented on strengthening local accountability to the group, stating “with much needed education funding coming into communities, now is an opportune time to think about how we strengthen governance at the school and district level so that communities are able to put these funds to work in new and different ways.”

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  • Boom in transit ridership could signal big changes for Brockton

    “Brockton was really slow to see any reinvestment and then all of a sudden the city has built a tremendous pipeline,” said Ben Forman, director of MassINC’s Gateway Cities Institute, which studies the state’s substantial collection of mid-sized, formerly industrial cities. Brockton has since “leapfrogged” many of the cities it once lagged behind in terms of housing production, according to Forman.

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  • Viewpoint: Affordability, congestion can be solved with smart, bold policies

    A flexible tax credit equal to up to 25 percent of development expenses, HDIP is quietly accumulating an impressive track record breathing new life into abandoned buildings and long-vacant lots near Gateway City train stations. MassINC research shows each dollar in state HDIP funding has leveraged approximately 12 additional dollars. Housing Choice and Opportunity Funds could provide even more leverage in the future, but the state must have credits available to deploy. Currently, HDIP is up against an annual cap of just $10 million.

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  • A Complex Recipe for Housing Financing

    Rob May, Brockton’s director of economic development and planning, famously offers up his seven-layer dip to anyone with a taste for the city’s downtown.

    A 121B Urban Renewal plan forms the base. Then, he mixes in 40Q District Improvement Financing, a 40R Smart Growth Overlay District, a 40V Housing Development Zone and a Transformative Development District. He recently has added an Opportunity Zone for a dash of spice. Apparently, a few stout souls have an appetite for this concoction; a downtown that sat idle for four decades has been steadily drawing private investment.

    As a case study for planners and policymakers, May’s seven-layer dip raises two central questions: How do we get other Gateway Cities to make better use of available state and federal development tools? And how do we refine these programs so that form a complementary fabric rather than a conflicting patchwork for cities?

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  • Opinion: State should strengthen, not take over, local school committees

    As a result, the strategic plans Massachusetts schools prepare today are anything but strategic. MassINC research shows that these plans don’t allocate resources to meet priorities, they don’t contain measurable goals to hold leaders accountable for results, and, perhaps most tellingly, they aren’t clear and accessible. This leaves parents with little grasp for what their schools are trying to improve upon, and how they can support the effort.

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  • Next Stop: The Commuter Rail

    WGBH News’ Bob Seay sits down with President of Transit Matters, Josh Fairchild, Transportation-Oriented Development Fellow of the Gateway Cities Institute at MassINC, Tracy Corley, and Mayor of Salem, Kim Driscoll, to discuss reliability, fare hikes and the future of the Commuter Rail. Watch it here…

  • Our Opinion: Encouraging state effort for city neighborhoods

    In an attempt to stem the decline of neighborhoods essential to the continued viability of these cities, two legislators, state Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn and state Rep. Antonio Cabral of New Bedford have filed bills that would take a multi-pronged approach to stabilizing neighborhoods, increase the state’s investment in such an effort, and coordinate various state initiatives to maximize their impact. Specifically, the proposal would double the cap of the state’s Housing Development Incentive Program to $20 million, create a “spot blight rehabilitation program” that would address distressed properties before they could negatively affect surrounding neighborhoods and consider neighborhood viability when considering school construction, among other measures.

    Mr. Forman of MassINC, whose report helped spur the effort, was most excited about the role of schools in the process. “More than half the state’s capital spending in Gateway Cities is in school building,” he told The Eagle. “Schools are the most important drivers of residential property value.” A school, he added, can become the multi-purpose core of a solid, stable neighborhood. “We had to get the state away from the idea that it should build the same school everywhere,” he said, citing the provision of child mental and physical health care and nighttime English language classes as functions influencing the design of a school to suit the needs of its neighborhood.

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  • Lawmakers pitch plan to help struggling cities

    New legislation filed by members of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, based on research by MassINC and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, aims to address those problems. The bill proposes a combination of state funding and initiatives that supporters say will help towns and cities stabilize distressed areas.

    The proposal is built on a report by MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, and the MACDC completed earlier this year. Representatives from the groups joined lawmakers Wednesday to promote the bill, where copies of the 24-page report were handed out.

    “It really comes back to neighborhood policy that we’ve been lacking in some way since the federal government walked off the job,” said Ben Forman, executive director of MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. “These neighborhoods are the greatest assets to our cities.”

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  • Home prices in ‘gateway cities’ bounce back. That’s the good — and the bad — news

     

    Those steep climbs emerged from deep troughs: Gateway cities suffered more than most in the last recession, and unemployment rates remained stubbornly high even after other communities bounced back. “They didn’t get the wind in their sails until late in the recovery,’’ said Benjamin Forman, research director at the nonprofit Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, known as MassINC…

    We may also be seeing the fruit of seeds sown more than a decade ago, when a 2007 report by MassINC and the Brookings Institution studied the disparities between booming Boston and the state’s smaller outlying cities, and urged lawmakers not to leave the latter behind. State funding followed for an initial group of 11 gateway cities — later expanded to include 26 communities of between 35,000 and 250,000 residents with income and educational attainment levels below the state average. And after years of investments, many are increasingly attractive to home buyers.

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  • Massachusetts cities like Springfield face barriers in combating urban blight, report finds

    In the wealthy Boston suburbs, housing prices are skyrocketing and affordable housing is hard to find, even for working families.

    But travel west to Springfield, and the picture is different.

    Housing prices, measured by median price per square foot, are among the lowest in the state. Nine percent of buildings are vacant. Nearly 40,000 residents — more than a quarter of the city’s population — live in areas where poverty rates are above 40 percent, according to a recent report by the MassINC think tank.

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  • MassINC, Fall River legislators push for new housing programs and funding

    FALL RIVER — As Ben Forman explains it, Fall River’s housing problem is almost the opposite of the issue facing residents and officials in Boston.

    While the state’s largest city faces a shortage of housing and a growing demand for places to live, Fall River, and many of the state’s other so-called Gateway Cities, are having to find ways to renovate and fill existing buildings that people can’t afford to, or don’t want to, live in.

    ″(These are) cities that have an older housing stock,” said Forman, the research director for the independent think tank MassINC. “They’re traditionally in low- or moderate-income communities and as that older housing stock gets more expensive to maintain, you see some challenges.”

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  • Poverty up in Worcester neighborhoods, as home values lag

    Even with a long period of economic growth and redevelopment through significant stretches of downtown, Worcester has not been spared from some broader troublesome trends, according to a new report from the Boston think tank MassINC.

    Worcester home values have fallen by 15 percent when adjusted for inflation since just before the Great Recession, placing it tied for last among the state’s 26 Gateway Cities.

    “When you already having broader economic inequality, and you lose the tools to counter that trend, it’s kind of a perfect storm, and it feeds on itself,” said Ben Forman, MassINC’s research director.

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  • Gateway City challenges: Pittsfield mayor asks lawmakers for help aiding neighborhoods

    Tyer joined with the nonpartisan MassInc research group to highlight recommendations in a new report, “Building Communities of Promise and Possibility.”

    The study depicts a worsening picture for housing in the state’s 11 Gateway Cities — a designation given a decade ago to mid-sized communities that face “stubborn social and economic challenges.” Without new investments, the report says, neighborhoods risk further decay in their housing that can bring further declines…

    Ben Forman, MassInc’s research director, credits Tyer with helping early on to identify the issues that went on to be explored in the report released last week. Tyer and Deanna L. Ruffer, Pittsfield’s director of community development, served on the study’s working group.

    “Pittsfield has played a really big role in this,” Forman said.

    Read More…

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