MBTA is trying to plan for 2040

MassDOT official explains what Focus40 is all about

A $7.3-BILLION BACKLOG in critical state of good repair investments, a century old system plagued by performance and reliability failures, major investments delayed and/or facing cost overruns…and then over 100 inches of snow in three weeks.  If one were to pick a point in the long history of the MBTA to develop a long-term investment vision, it would be difficult to imagine a more challenging time to do so.

It was in this context that MassDOT and the MBTA launched Focus40, a 25-year investment plan for Greater Boston’s transit system.  And even with the MBTA appropriately focused on addressing today’s challenges as quickly as possible, there may never be a better time to plan for our long-term future.

While the MBTA faces significant challenges, Boston’s urban core – the development pattern of which is largely due to a legacy of good mass transit – is growing faster than it has in nearly a century.  Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have seen their collective population grow by 12 percent since 2000.  The City of Boston is currently planning for a 2030 population of 700,000 – a figure that it could reach much sooner if recent growth rates are maintained.  Employers seeking quality of both talent and lifestyle are also moving into the core, from major employers like Biogen, Converse, and GE, to smaller creative firms such as Continuum (a design firm collaborating with MassDOT on Focus40).  Planning for the future is critical at a time when so much of the region is racing towards it.  Focus40 is designed to provide that opportunity to plan for the future, grounded in a clear-eyed understanding of the needs of the present.

We are fortunate that so many Bostonians – everyone from visionary planners to every-day riders – are so committed to the success of the MBTA.  We are also fortunate to have an extensive roster of major MBTA expansion projects and investment ideas that are often promoted as solutions to the region’s mobility needs.  These aren’t bad ideas – to varying degrees, all would address real mobility gaps in our existing network.  But the regional context is rapidly changing: we now have the growing threat of climate change, the emergence of new and potentially transformative transportation options, and ready access to new customer-oriented technologies.  All of these factors are slowly but incrementally altering the role the MBTA will need to play in our region.  We need new ideas, and a new kind of planning process, to help us to meet the future.

Focus40 has responded to the excitement and uncertainty of this moment by undertaking a thorough analysis of the existing MBTA system, and contemplating the implications of a range of emerging trends. After a successful kickoff event in May, we recently launched a civic engagement campaign that both feels different and is designed to reach the full spectrum of MBTA customer groups and stakeholders.  At our October Focus40 Interactive Open House at the Bolling Building in Dudley Square, attendees provided feedback on proposed goals for the future MBTA; learned about MBTA efforts to dramatically transform the customer experience through new approaches to fare collection and new vehicles; and considered three alternate scenarios for the future of Greater Boston.  Most importantly, it was an opportunity for participants to begin generating a new menu of investment ideas that respond not only to the needs of today’s customers but to those of future riders.

The Open House was only the beginning – since then our team has been traveling the MBTA system, collecting your thoughts on what our investment priorities should be.  We’ve engaged with our future workforce through a partnership with 826Boston and the Boston Public Schools. And we’ve even launched a new website (www.mbtafocus40.com) to accept your input.  You can also check the website to see where the Focus40 team will be going to collect your ideas next.

Meet the Author

Scott Hamwey

Manager of long-range planning, MassDOT
Today’s service and infrastructure challenges are very real, and the MBTA – with leadership from the Baker administration and under the guidance of the Fiscal Management and Control Board – is rising to meet them. Through Focus40, we hope to give you another opportunity to add your voice in this important work.

Scott Hamwey, manager of long-range planning at MassDOT, is leading the Focus40.