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Think Tank Urges Transportation Investment in Mass. Gateway Cities

A new report by Massachusetts think-tank MassINC shows a significant economic impact from the lack of adequate public transportation available in Gateway Cities.

The report released this week titled “Reinventing Transit: Investing in Public Transportation for Strong Gateway Cities Economies” reveals that the inadequate public transportation systems in place in mid-size, post-industrial cities in the commonwealth not only hinder workers, but also contribute to below-average labor force participation.

Ben Forman, Research Director at MassINC and Executive Director of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute said for Gateway Cities without strong public transportation, commute times go up.  

Forman also explained that because it can be particularly hard for young people, many who may not have a car, to find a job in the current economy a poor transit system can only hinder an area’s potential for growth. He used Pittsfield as an example.  

MassINC’s report shows that Pittsfield’s labor participation rate is 4 points below the Massachusetts average. Other Gateway Cities average 2.5 points below average.

Gary Shepard is Administrator for the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority – one of 15 Regional transit authorities in Massachusetts outside of the MBTA. Shepard said that what his customers are requesting are in-line with what MassINC recommends.

That includes late-night and weekend service.

Governor Deval Patrick has made transportation a top priority in his FY 2014 budget proposal. To help pay for new investments, he’s requesting that lawmakers vote to raise revenues by increasing the state income tax, as well as making other adjustments to the tax code. The Governor’s plan calls for strengthened support for Regional Transit Authorities - $400 Million would be provided for the RTA’s to upgrade and improve their facilities over the next decade. $100 Million is being called for next year to help put the RTA’s into a future funding scenario.

MassINC is taking its findings on the road, on a tour of 10 Gateway Cities, where public hearings are being held to make issues of transit aware to the public. The first of those meetings was held this week in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier attended the hearing said that she supports MassINC’s recommendation to ensure that RTA’s are funded by taxpayers in their areas, as opposed to the current system that distributes funds back to the RTA’s from statewide sales tax revenues.

Bouvier also joins MassINC and the BRTA’s call for the Regional transit authorities to have their own budget line item.

Ben Forman says that MassINC’s polling on demand for transportation is consistent throughout Gateway Cities.

The next stop in MassINC’s tour will take place on March 4th in Fitchburg. A full schedule will be released afterward.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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