Transit riders and communities need better RTA service

Regional Transit Authorities require more stable funding

AS THE 2021-22 legislative session draws to a close in Massachusetts, our constituents are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by record high gas prices and inflation that too often force them to choose between filling up at the pump and filling their refrigerators. Overwhelmed by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left too many folks behind on rent payments and facing eviction. Overwhelmed by the climate crisis, which has exacerbated environmental harms like extreme heat and flooding, and threatens the future of our communities.

Inflation, economic instability, and the climate crisis don’t just affect our constituents in Brockton and Greenfield. These issues affect all Massachusetts residents, and require multi-pronged, statewide solutions. One of the most effective and equitable solutions to address all three of these issues is one often missing from policymaker proposals: meaningful investment in public transportation.

The state’s 15 Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are the backbone of our public transportation system. Every day, high-capacity vehicles like buses and trains help get millions of people to essential activities like jobs, child care, and vaccine appointments, while causing less environmental harm (particularly as we electrify fleets) and saving residents on fuel. Too often, however, transportation funding prioritizes cars over mass transit. This approach to funding transportation comes at a high cost to the people of Massachusetts, especially working class folks, people with disabilities, and older adults.

The status quo for transportation has not been working. In our communities, RTAs are unable to provide service during critical work hours, and the services they do provide are not frequent enough for many commuters. The RTA Advancement Bill (S.2277) would stabilize funding for RTAs and begin to pave the way for better service through mechanisms like annual funding increases, electric bus plans, and regular reporting on the needs of RTA communities. Filed this session by Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. Natalie Blais, the bill was favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on Transportation and currently sits before Senate Ways and Means.

With service areas stretching from Western Massachusetts to the Merrimack Valley, RTAs cover 55 percent of Massachusetts residents and play an essential role for residents, yet receive less than 7 percent of state transit operational dollars. Communities like Brockton and Greenfield rely upon RTA services to access critical resources like food, housing, education, and more. Residents in Brockton use Brockton Area Transit buses to access parenting classes. Third shift workers in Greenfield use Franklin Regional Transit Authority services to access off-hours employment. For many across the state with disabilities, RTAs are the only mobility option outside of using expensive taxis or ride services like Uber.

Lack of investment in regional transit isn’t just hurting our economies, it’s exacerbating climate change. Transportation emissions create the most greenhouse gasses in Massachusetts. In order to dramatically cut emissions and meet our climate goals, we need to electrify public bus fleets and make mass transit more reliable and convenient, so drivers get out of their cars and onto the bus. With gas prices at record highs, now is the time to seriously invest in public transportation to give every Massachusetts resident a meaningful option besides driving or relying on expensive rideshare services.

The overlapping crises of inflation and climate change currently threatening the health of our communities must be met with smart and equitable transit policy. The legislature must seize this opportunity to act to increase equity in regional transit by passing S.2277, An Act to Improve and Expand Regional Transit Accessibility in the Commonwealth.

Robert Sullivan is the mayor of Brockton. Roxann Wedegartner is the mayor of Greenfield.