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Some 60 People Attend ‘Conversation’ on Public Transportation's Future

Some offer complaints, kudos and ideas.

Remember the hue and cry early this year when the T proposed to cut road and rail service or raise rates for riders?

Fares went up. So did ridership, across public transportation modes, according to Jonathan Davis, acting general manager and rail and transit administrator of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

What do residents of the Commonwealth want in their public transportation system statewide?

MassDOT, which oversees public transportation on roads, rails and tarmacs here, held a meeting at Medford's McGlynn Middle School Tuesday night, part of a series of “conversations” statewide, to hear ideas about the transportation system people want and what the state agency needs to do to achieve that vision.

MassDOT is also soliciting support for public transportation, Davis told Patch after the meeting.

We cannot afford the transportation we have, Davis told the audience of about 60 people in his brief opening remarks.

Yet MassDOT has heard, Davis said, that people need more public transportation. Davis, who identified himself as a Medford resident, said he rides the T every day to and from work.

Twenty-plus people presented opinions, complaints and suggestions at the two-and-a-half hour meeting. Keeping the Commonwealth competitive economically depends on its transportation system said several speakers, including Davis. 

As the population ages, more people will turn, several others said, from driving to public transportation.

One of the common themes: More timely distribution of Chapter 90 money from the state legislature to the state’s 351 communities for their roads.

Individual speakers asked for better Ride service for seniors with disabilities; expanded bus service between East Boston and Chelsea; electronic bus schedule signs at the Wonderland T station and more of an emphasis on biking. One tied better health to walking or cycling to a T stop. One woman proposed to expand a local no-car day effort statewide.

Where to get money? An internet sales tax and gas tax, several speakers suggested.

Transportation engineer and Medford resident Frank O’Callaghan and others praised the agency’s new bridge repair program. But some 450 bridges still have problems, he said. Minor problems worsen, another highway engineer said, into major ones over time.

Another speaker, also a Medford resident, questioned the MassDOT’s "social equity"—why black residents in Boston spend more hours on public transportation and how much outreach was done to the African American community in West Medford in connection with the proposed rail line extension. That same speaker also asked why universities are not asked for tax contributions and why an excise tax is not paid on students.

Another speaker berated the agency representatives at the meeting for the lack of what he said were services for the disabled.

Several state legislators attended the meeting: Sen. Patricia Jehlen and Reps. Paul Donato and Carl Sciortino (Medford); Rep. Paul Brodeur (Melrose); Sean Garballey (Arlington); and Jay Kaufman (Lexington), along with Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.

The next MassDOT meeting in this series will be held tonight, Thursday, Nov. 29, in Boston, at the Mass. Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza, from 6 to 8 p.m.

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