Virus upends commuting attitudes, plans

The coronavirus pandemic will hopefully come to an end or become successfully managed in the not too distant future, but some of the commuting practices it is ushering in may have more staying power.

 

Among regular MBTA subway riders, 44 percent say they plan to use the system less going forward, while 45 percent say they plan to end up driving more, according to a new survey done by the MassINC Polling Group for the Barr Foundation. Just a quarter of those surveyed said they would be comfortable riding the subway at rush hour.

An astonishing 41 percent of all employees in the statewide poll said they would prefer to continue working from home even after workplaces reopen, an indication that the enormous changes forced by the virus outbreak have opened a window into the possibility of a long-lasting resetting of the way we commute and work.

“This survey suggests we could see changes all across the system in terms of how people get around, with large swaths of the population planning to do things differently than before,” said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group.

The pandemic broke out just as the Legislature was wrestling with a plan to address the state’s transportation needs. In early March, the House passed a bill that would raise the state gas tax by 5 cents a gallon along with raising other fees to fund transportation needs. Just before the shutdown, the traffic data firm Inrix rated Boston traffic the worst in the country for the second year in a row.  Meanwhile, the MBTA has been struggling to deliver capital improvements quickly to a system suffering from billions of dollars in deferred maintenance.

Gov. Charlie Baker, an avowed foe of broad-based tax increases in general, has said now is an even worse time to consider tax increases, with the economy in tatters and unemployment spiking. But none of that changes the transportation infrastructure needs the state will face, and many have pointed out that gas prices have plummeted, which would more than cushion the impact of a 5 cent hike in the gas levy.

If more permanent changes in work and commuting practices are likely, how does that change planning for the state’s transportation future? The combination of fewer transit riders and more people taking to their cars is exactly that wrong way to go in the effort to relieve roadway congestion and promote more environmentally sustainable commuting patterns. But what would that mean in the context of an overall decrease in people commuting to work by any means?

Meanwhile, they are not viable commuting methods for many people, but 64 percent of respondents said they would support communities permanently giving over more street space to pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s hard to see how that would work, though, if accompanied by a crush of more cars on the road.

Big differences that emerged early on in the shutdown in who has been able to work from home have largely persisted. The poll showed that just a quarter of those with only a high school diploma have been able to work remotely, while more than 70 percent of those with a BA or further education have been able to do so.

It is yet another metric showing how the effects of the pandemic have not been felt evenly. If more working from home becomes baked into how companies operate, the same will be true with whatever the new normal is on rush hour roadways, trains, and buses.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Top Baker aides knew about COVID-19 problems at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home a week before Gov. Charlie Baker said he became aware of them, according to emails and reports released by the former superintendent of the home. (CommonWealth)

Weeks late, the Massachusetts unemployment insurance portal is finally translated into Portuguese. (CommonWealth)

A group of 91 economists calls for the state to raise personal and corporate taxes. (Boston Herald)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito corrects an error-filled report about her throwing a big party over the holiday weekend, but she acknowledges she attended a family party where social distancing was practiced. (CommonWealth) Herald columnist Hillary Chabot said it was nonetheless a bad look for Polito to attend the party.

Gov. Charlie Baker announces a $56 million program to help needy individuals access food. (The Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

One big hole in all the coronavirus testing data: a breakdown of who is getting tested by municipality. (Boston Globe)

A lawsuit involving a boat that sank while being towed by the Coast Guard is now dragging in Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, who is accused of threatening the Gloucester harbormaster, who is a witness. (Gloucester Daily News)

South Shore churches reopen, and faith leaders said they think their first service since March was successful. (Patriot Ledger)

Fall River and Somerset recreation departments are considering extra precautions in opening parks and basketball courts during phase two. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Four Minneapolis police officers have been fired following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was handcuffed in police custody. A bystander’s video showed him pleading that he couldn’t breathe as a white officer knelt on his neck. (Associated Press)

ELECTIONS

In a fundraising letter, the leader of the Massachusetts Republicans says the state party is in “dire straits.” (CommonWealth)

Another ballot petition battle royale is in the works, as the Supreme Judicial Court turns aside a challenge from package stores to block a ballot question pushed by Cumberland Farms that would create a new food store license for beer and wine. (CommonWealth)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

It was much more a trickle than a big flow as offices outside Boston were allowed to reopen Tuesday. (Boston Globe)

Small, private gyms are pushing Gov. Charlie Baker to allow them to reopen sooner than larger facilities. (Telegram & Gazette) Massachusetts zoos opening slowly. (WBUR) Meanwhile, there are long lines for beach passes in Dartmouth. (Standard-Times)

The National Hockey League, if it returns to play, will move right into the playoffs with 24 teams playing in two cities only. (Associated Press)

The video game industry is thriving during the pandemic, as people are forced to stay home. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Reopening K-12 schools this fall would be a daunting proposition. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Jury trials will not resume until at least September 8, as state courthouses remain closed to the public. (The Salem News)

Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger writes about the practices his jail is taking to keep inmates safe and his opposition to policies requiring the release of additional inmates. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Lawyers for William Allen hope he may be the first inmate to have his sentence commuted by Gov. Charlie Baker. (WBUR)

Inmates at the Hampden County jail in Ludlow will be locked down 24/7 after eight inmates and four staff tested positive for COVID-19. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Twitter slaps a get-the-facts link on tweets issued by President Trump that the company says contain inaccurate information. (Washington Post)