Commuters weary of road and transit problems

Poll says voters support new funding to address challenges

MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS ARE feeling stressed over crowded roadways and unreliable public transit systems, and express little optimism that situation will improve in coming years, according to a new poll.

More than half of full-time workers who commute by car say they’ve been late for work because of traffic in the last few months, while 63 percent of public transit commuters said delays have caused them to be late recently, according to the survey conducted by The MassINC Polling Group.

Close to three-quarters of full-time workers said they’ve become stressed or angry over commuting delays, a figure that climbs to 80 percent for those with commutes longer than 45 minutes.

Among those with long commutes, 71 percent said they’ve been late for work in recent months, half said they’ve considered changing jobs to improve their commute, while 30 percent said they’ve considered moving out of the area altogether because of the strain of commuting delays.

“These impact numbers, especially among those with the longest commutes, should be a red flag for the business community in Massachusetts,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey of 1,200 Massachusetts voters.

The poll was sponsored by The Barr Foundation, with questions designed in consultation with a committee of policy experts and business leaders.

Voters said they’ve seen little improvement in transportation in recent years – and don’t hold out a lot of hope for things to get better anytime soon. Just 17 percent of those surveyed think transportation has gotten easier over the last five years, while only 19 percent said they expect improvement over the coming five years.

Two-thirds agreed with the statement that “action is urgently needed to improve the state’s transportation system,” and 80 percent supported raising new revenue to fund improvements.

Fifty-five percent supported letting cities and regions hold votes to raise local taxes to fund transportation projects, while 82 percent supported toll discounts for those who drive outside of rush hour in an effort to reduce congestion.

The poll comes as advocates are pushing for more funding for the MBTA, experimentation with variable-priced road tolling, and dramatically increased service on commuter rail lines to and from Boston.

An analysis released in February by the national transportation data firm Inrix quantified the loss of productivity for the average Boston area driver sitting in traffic for 164 hours over the course of a year at $2,200 a year — the highest in the nation.

For Christina Davies, if all goes smoothly, her commute from her home in Salem to work at MIT in Cambridge takes an hour. On a good day, Davies will take the 8:28 a.m. commuter rail train to North Station, and then an EzRide shuttle bus (unaffiliated with the MBTA) to Cambridge, arriving at work by 9:30.

In the evenings, she usually takes the MBTA Red and Green lines back to North Station to catch the commuter rail to Salem. She’s been taking the route for a year, and thinks the service has been getting steadily worse.

“It seems like track fires, derailments, and mechanical issues have been more frequent on the subway,” she said, noting that commuter rail delays also had her more than an hour late to work in early April several times.

When there are delays or the Kendall/MIT Red Line platform is packed to the point of too many trains going by, Davies bails from the station and walks from MIT to North Station over the Longfellow Bridge in order to avoid missing her evening train home.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“The steady increase in difficulty has made me consider moving out of [the] Boston [area] altogether,” she said, adding that moving closer to Cambridge isn’t an option due to high housing costs.

“There can only be one conclusion from this poll: The patient doesn’t need a Band-Aid; the patient needs surgery,” said Jesse Mermell, president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, one of the groups that provided input on questions to include in the poll. “In order to ensure the Commonwealth’s future economic competitiveness, solutions to this problem must be comprehensive, equitable, and implemented quickly.”