Commonwealth Magazine

LIKE 2021 – 2022 legislative session is coming to an end in Massachusetts, our voters are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by record gas prices and inflation that too often force them to choose between filling up at the pump and filling their refrigerator. Weighed down by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left too many people behind paying rent and facing eviction. Overwhelmed by the climate crisis, which has exacerbated environmental damage like extreme heat and flooding, and threatens the future of our communities.

Inflation, economic instability and the climate crisis are not just affecting our constituents in Brockton and Greenfield. These issues affect all Massachusetts residents and require statewide, multi-pronged solutions. One of the most effective and equitable solutions to these three problems is often missing from policymakers’ proposals: significant investment in public transport.

The state’s 15 Regional Transportation 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 millions of people get to essential activities like jobs, childcare and vaccine appointments, while causing less damage to the environment (especially when we electrify fleets) and saving fuel for residents. Too often, however, transport funding prioritizes cars over public transport. This approach to funding transportation comes at a high cost to Massachusetts residents, especially working-class people, people with disabilities, and seniors.

The status quo for transport has not worked. In our communities, FSAs are unable to provide service during critical working hours, and the services they provide are not frequent enough for many commuters. The FSA Advancement Bill (S.2277) would stabilize FSA funding and begin to pave the way for better service through mechanisms such as annual funding increases, electric bus plans and reporting regularly on the needs of the RTA communities. Introduced this session by Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. Natalie Blais, the bill received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Transportation and is currently sitting before the Senate Ways and Means.

With service areas stretching from Western Massachusetts to the Merrimack Valley, RTAs cover 55% of Massachusetts residents and play a vital role for residents, but receive less than 7% of transportation operating dollars common to the state. Communities like Brockton and Greenfield rely on RTA services to access essential resources such as food, shelter, education, and more. Brockton residents use Brockton Area Transit buses to access parenting classes. Third-shift workers in Greenfield use the services of the Franklin Regional Transit Authority to access after-hours employment. For many people with disabilities across the state, RTAs are the only mobility option outside of using expensive taxis or transportation services like Uber.

Lack of investment in regional transit is not only hurting our economies, it is exacerbating climate change. Transportation emissions create the most greenhouse gases in Massachusetts. In order to drastically reduce emissions and meet our climate goals, we need to electrify public bus fleets and make public transport 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 ride-sharing services.

The overlapping inflation and climate change crises currently threatening the health of our communities need to be addressed through smart and fair transit policy. Legislators must seize this opportunity to act to increase equity in regional public transit by adopting S.2277, An Act to improve and extend accessibility to regional public transport in the Commonwealth.

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


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