Task force urges carrot-and-stick approach with RTAs
Increase funding, but tie it to individualized performance goals
A correction has been added to this story.
A TASK FORCE IS RECOMMENDING that state funding increase next year for the 15 regional transportation authorities as long as each authority commits to personalized targets for ridership and financial performance.
Last year, the Department of Transportation distributed $82 million to the authorities under a pre-set formula, provided another $4 million in competitive innovation grants, and funneled $2 million in one-time support to the Worcester and Pioneer Valley transit authorities to ease debt concerns. The task force is recommending an increase in overall funding to $90.5 million in fiscal 2020 ($4.5 million more than what Gov. Charlie Baker recommended in his budget), along with an annual escalator keyed to the consumer price index.
Astrid Glynn, the state’s rail and transit administrator and the chair of the task force, said better data will be collected on the performance of the regional transit authorities and that data will be used to negotiate memorandums of understanding with each RTA on how it should perform. If a transit authority doesn’t meet its performance targets, remediation measures will be implemented. If those measures are unsuccessful, additional remediation measures will be tried. (Correction: An earlier version of this story said funding could be withheld if an authority repeatedly fails to meet its performance targets, but state officials say that’s not the case.)
The extra funding being recommended for the authorities is a carrot designed to win buy-in from local officials for more standardized operating procedures, adjusted to reflect local conditions. “They’re coming around to the necessity of it, but they want to make sure it’s individualized,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack at a briefing on the task force report at a meeting Monday of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board.
Joe Sullivan, the mayor of Braintree and a member of the MassDOT board, said the regional transit authorities need to bring some consistency to their operations. Some authorities, he noted, operate just on weekdays, while others operate all week long. He also pointed out that regional transit authorities generate only 16 percent of their own revenue.
According to task force data, nine of the 15 authorities have raised fares in the last four years, and four of those increases have come in just the last year. But the Cape Ann Transportation Authority hasn’t raised fares in 15 years, while the Cape Cod and Metrowest authorities haven’t increased fares in 11 years.
“There are some administrators, like Thomas Cahir [of the Cape Cod authority], who are excellent. There are others who aren’t,” Glynn said.But MassDOT board member Brian Shortsleeve noted even the Cape authority needs to shake things up. On his visits to Cape Cod during the summer, Shortsleeve said, he has noticed that the authority’s buses run up and down Route 28 and are almost always empty.
The task force plans to take comments on its report at the Worcester Public Library (March 20, 5 p.m.), the Hyannis Transportation Center (March 21, 3 p.m.), and the UMass Amherst Campus Center (March 22, 4 p.m.) The final report will be filed with the Legislature and likely be reflect in the budget for the coming fiscal year.