Time to address equity in public transportation

Regional transit authorities serve 55% of population but get 7% of state transportation funding

THE MASSACHUSETTS public transportation system is broken, and now is the time to fix it – equitably.

The public is demanding action, and Gov. Maura Healey is bringing fresh energy and a strong commitment to public transit. The tools are available, including $1 billion  in additional revenue from the Fair Share transportation and education surtax, on top of already robust state finances. It is imperative that these resources be equitably distributed to cover the whole of the Commonwealth. The time is now to seize this opportunity to invest comprehensively in our public transportation system to ensure that every resident, no matter their zip code, has access to reliable service that gets them where they need to go. Our economy and the success of the next generation depends on it.

We must ensure that the benefits of public transportation are extended across Massachusetts for full economic recovery. Our state’s 15 Regional Transit Authorities, or RTAs, provide essential service to riders in over 250 cities and towns beyond the reach of MBTA bus and subway service. However, although 55 percent of Massachusetts residents live in an RTA community, RTAs currently receive less than 7 percent of state transit operations dollars. Where is the equity in that?

In some rural areas, there are no public transportation services at all. This is difficult to imagine in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, in communities that do have RTA service, roughly 40 percent do not have service seven days a week, and more than half lack service after 9 p.m. There are not enough routes, and there are no connections between RTA service areas, making it impossible for many residents to get where they need to go.

Access to public transportation also affects the health outcomes of individuals and whole communities. RTAs are a lifeline for many residents, connecting them to food, medical care, jobs, school, youth development opportunities, and much more. Affordable and reliable public transportation is critical for low-income families and people with disabilities, who rely on public transit to carry out day-to-day activities.

We can take decisive action and develop a bold statewide plan for equitable public transportation in our Commonwealth by advancing An Act to Increase Regional Transit Accessibility in the Commonwealth. These bills would raise the floor for RTA funding in the state budget to $150 million, so that each agency is able to provide daily and evening service. In addition, the bills would direct the RTA Council to report annually on gaps in service, in order to uplift community needs as they emerge.

Meet the Author

Natalie Blais

State representative, Representing Sunderland
Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Alexis Walls

Assistant campaign director / Chair, Massachusetts Public Health Association / Regional Transit Authority Coalition
Where you live should not determine your mobility – or your quality of life. All Massachusetts residents deserve reliable public transportation services that meet their needs and contribute to more healthy, resilient communities.

Natalie M. Blais of Deerfield  is the state representative for the 1st Franklin District. Susan Moran of Falmouth is the state senator for the Plymouth & Barnstable District.  Alexis Walls is assistant campaign director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association and chair of the Regional Transit Authority Advocates Coalition (RTAAC).