Eastie group: Unplug Eversource’s plan

Boston Herald by Brooks Sutherland

On the same day that Mayor Martin J. Walsh rolled out extensive plans to protect the city’s waterfront and shoreline from rising sea levels, a group of East Boston residents stormed City Hall Plaza, demanding that he  hear their concerns about Eversource’s proposal to put a substation near Chelsea Creek. 

John Walkey, the waterfront initiative coordinator for the community-based organization GreenRoots, said his group has been trying to meet with the mayor “for about a year,” to voice their opposition due to the proposed electrical substation. Walkey gave credit to Walsh for some of the work that has been done as part of the Climate Ready East Boston Plan, but said allowing a substation would counter its progress. 

“It doesn’t fit into that plan,” Walkey said. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like saying tomorrow, I’m going on a diet, I’m going to lose 20 pounds, but first, I’m going to eat this entire box of Kane’s doughnuts.”

The mayor’s office said in a statement, “The substation in East Boston will better support East Boston’s growing population and facilities, including the city’s investments in a new police station, ambulance bay and a public works facility,” adding that the city worked with Eversource to choose the site.   

The statement didn’t say whether the mayor plans to meet with the group. 

City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who represents East Boston, told the Herald that even though it appears the substation will be built, compromises can be made between the organization, mayor and Eversource.  

“I would encourage the mayor and Eversource to sit down with GreenRoots,” Edwards said. “There are some ways in which we can make sure everybody is on the same page. I would love a commitment from Eversource that if uses go down, they re-consider decommissioning the substation.”

New technology could radically reshape MBTA fare policies

The Boston Globe by Adam Vaccaro

Should you pay a higher fare if your subway ride is longer than other commuters’ trips? Or more for a bus or train ticket during rush hour, and less during off-peak times?

The MBTA has long relied on a set of fixed fares for most transit lines, but a pending shift to an all-electronic payment system could allow the agency to adopt a staggered fare structure, already used in some other cities, in which prices could be based on time of day, distance, or even income.

“We want to be able to have that flexibility in the future, depending on ridership changes or service changes,” said Laurel Paget-Seekins, director of fare policy and analytics for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. “Nobody’s saying we want to do this one exact thing. We want to be able to think through these questions and then have the flexibility to implement whatever we come to.”

The T is already planning for a fare increase in 2019, the fourth since 2012. But the changes the agency is considering now would go far beyond just raising or lowering the cost of certain trips, and instead would set new rules.

In public meetings, agency officials have mentioned time-of-day pricing, to encourage ridership during off-peak hours, and distance-based fares, which are already used on the commuter rail, as examples of possible new fare systems.

Other ideas include reducing prices on trains with low ridership, such as those during the middle of the day or that travel against rush-hour traffic. The new fare system would also make it easier to offer low-income riders reduced fares, which transportation officials have discussed for years but currently only offer to young adults.

Already some transit advocates are concerned by some of the ideas; for example, they see charging more based on distance as unfair to low-income workers — especially those who’ve been pushed by high housing prices to live in further-out communities.

“People who are making less money [and] are living further away from their place of employment would now have to pay more to get to their jobs,” said Leilani Mroczkowski, a community engagement coordinator with the Chelsea-based nonprofit group GreenRoots.

Mroczkowski, who is on a working group to help the T develop policies, also opposes higher prices during rush hour, because service-industry workers with set hours have less flexibility about their commuting hours.

Mroczkowski suggested a system of consistent fares throughout the day, with rewards to riders who travel off-peak such as an occasional free ride. That too, would be possible with the new technology, MBTA officials said.

Paget-Seekins stressed the T is only considering its options, not leaning in any direction, and won’t make any decisions until after the new system is installed. The T will soon build a model to test changes in ridership and revenue based on different fare structures, which will help guide any future decisions, as will a lengthy public input process.

Officials have ticked off many benefits from the new all-electronic fare collection system, coming by 2021. Riders will be able to pay with a smartphone or credit card in addition to a plastic Charlie Card, and board buses and trolleys at all doors. And the MBTA could integrate its own system with other forms of transportation, allowing transfers between the train and the Blue Bikes system, for example.

The electronic system would make it much easier and faster to program in different prices, a big change from today’s system, which requires each individual fare reader to be reprogrammed.

“It moves it from a horrible hardware problem to a much simpler software problem,” said MBTA chief technology officer David Block-Schachter.

The T has largely modeled the new fare collection system on London, which charges higher fares during rush hour, and has subway costs that fluctuate based on distance. Distance-based fares require riders to tap their payment card to a fare reader both when they enter and exit the system. The concept is not fully foreign: Washington, D.C., also uses differentiated pricing.

Jon Orcutt, director of advocacy for the national group Transit Center, said several US transit agencies are also considering different pricing as they develop new fare collection technology. Some are just now considering a system the T has had in place for years, allowing riders to transfer between bus and subway for one fare. The MBTA expanded that policy in 2016 to allow bus-to-subway-to-bus transfers at the cost of one subway ride, $2.25.

Orcutt encouraged the T to focus on fares that encourage more ridership, rather than something like distance-based fares that would make the system more complex.

“Simple fares are better,” he said.

That was the thinking in the Seattle area, where the King County Metro bus system recently shifted to one flat fare for all trips, eliminating distance-based and rush-hour premiums. Chris O’Claire, an assistant general manager for the King County system, said the goal was to make the fare system easier to understand both for riders and the drivers who often had to answer their questions. Previously, off-peak trips cost $2.50 and commutes during rush hour cost $2.75, with additional charges for longer trips. Now, all trips cost $2.75.

“We are hearing anecdotal information from our customers that the complexity of how you enter the system has been reduced, and it’s easier to access the system,” O’Claire said. “And that was a true goal of ours.”

In contrast to riders who only use the subway or bus, commuter rail riders in Boston are already familiar with complexity, with 21 different fares ranging from $2.25 to $12.50 based on distance. Some advocates have pushed the T to simplify the structure, especially by lowering fares on some stations closer to Boston. In the past, T officials have argued that the existing fare system is reasonable because even if longer rides are more expensive, they are cheaper for riders on a per-mile basis.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature ordered transportation officials to review fare rates on the commuter rail, including lower prices from certain stations, and different prices during off-peak hours.

The commuter rail is in for some of the biggest changes when the new fare system comes online. Until now, train conductors have visually checked riders’ tickets and monthly passes, or accepted payment on-board. With the new system, riders will pay by tapping their fare card or phone to a reader as they enter the train, and again as they exit, to determine how much they owe.

Some commuter rail stations may also get fare gates similar to those on the subway. Meanwhile, for the first time, the T will develop policies about combined fares for transfers from the bus or subway to the commuter rail.

Paget-Seekins said the T needs to get through these big changes first before considering a major overhaul of fares on the commuter rail or any other mode.

“It’s the last piece of the project,” she said. “There’s a lot of other stuff that has to happen first.”

Developer shares vision for Suffolk Downs

The Bay State Banner by Emily Carson

Plans call for creation of new neighborhood over 161 acres

….

Resiliency

Other concepts put forth in the meeting included resiliency, such as planning for storm surges caused by climate change and rising sea levels. Areas around the neighborhood, such as lower-level garages and a sunken park amphitheater, will function as water basins and drainage sites during heavy flooding periods. HYM is also aiming to reduce emissions in the building process and make the buildings sustainable: 50 percent of the buildings will be LEED Gold certified or better and 50 percent will be LEED Silver. 

The meeting took place on the day the Draft Environmental Impact Report and Draft Project Impact Report had been filed by HYM and released by the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The impact report includes studies of how aspects of the project, such as infrastructure building and traffic, will affect the environment around the site, including wetlands, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

“Redevelopment of the project site provides a unique opportunity to create additional housing, spur economic development, mitigate climate change in the area and improve connections between several adjoining neighborhoods,” the report states.

John Walkey, a waterfront initiative coordinator with the Chelsea-based environmental justice organization GreenRoots, said he has been following the development of the project and remains unswayed by the presentation’s promises of affordable housing. He is concerned by both the environmental and social impacts of the plan, and echoes Berninger’s sentiments.

“Housing should be a human right, and treating it like supply and demand is just underselling the issue,” Walkey said at the meeting. “It’s really going to change the fabric of the neighborhood and hasten the demise of an immigrant neighborhood.”

Though HYM has held more than 300 meetings in the community with different neighborhood groups, and even one-on-one meetings, this is the first unveiling of the plan at a public neighborhood meeting. Councilor Edwards said she is pleased the meeting took place.

“It’s an opportunity to start off a positive conversation about where we want to go, but also to make sure that we’re developing a really good, open, transparent relationship with HYM, as this is a long-term project,” said Edwards.

HYM’s O’Brien expressed satisfaction with the meeting overall.

“I thought the meeting went really well,” he said. “People listened to our proposal, they listened to the details. There weren’t that many questions, so hopefully that means we’ve answered people’s questions for the most part.”

The process is currently under review by the BPDA. The public comment period concludes Dec. 17. The next meeting for the project is on Tuesday, Oct. 16 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Suffolk Downs Clubhouse.

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T officials promise Chelsea service improvements

Commonwealth Magazine by Bruce Mohl

Agency to explore bus lanes, but fare reductions not considered

STATE TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS said on Monday they would explore ways to address delays on the MBTA’s third-busiest bus route, but they refused to even consider what many residents of Chelsea say they want – fare reductions.

What to do about the Route 111 bus that carries more than 12,000 passengers a day came to a head a week ago when Brian Lang, a director of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, demanded to know what the T was doing to address chronic delays that are likely to worsen as construction accelerates on bridges used by the bus. Lang said he was worried that the problems with Route 111 were not getting the agency’s attention because most of the riders are poor, working-class immigrants.

At Monday’s meeting of the control board, a number of Chelsea residents showed up to complain about the service and the refusal of T officials to listen to their concerns. The residents, most of them from an organization called GreenRoots, said the 111 buses are regularly overcrowded and often delayed. They acknowledged fare mitigation wouldn’t solve those problems, but they said lower fares would at least be an acknowledgment that Chelsea residents shouldn’t be treated like cattle.

“Why are we paying the exact same fares for the worst service in the state?” asked Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots.

The T unveiled what it called the Chelsea Plan in May to improve service on the 111 bus route and divert as many of its passengers as possible to alternative modes of transportation, including commuter rail, the Chelsea Silver Line service to South Station via the Seaport District, and buses linking to the Blue Line. The Chelsea Plan estimated travel times on the 111 route would be up to 45 minutes longer during the peak bridge construction period in July 2019 and 20 minutes longer at other times.

The 111 bus runs from Everett through Revere and into Chelsea, where it picks up most of its passengers. It continues over the Tobin Bridge into Charlestown and then into Haymarket in Boston via the North Washington Street Bridge. The Tobin Bridge is currently undergoing repairs and the North Washington Street Bridge is slated to be rebuilt over a five-year period. The 111 bus often runs late because of traffic congestion along the route. Its performance has also suffered in the past because the T frequently diverted 111 buses and drivers to plug holes in the schedule of other, less frequent routes.

T General Manager Luis Ramirez said he and other transit officials have been meeting with Chelsea officials to resolve the problems. “We are working hard to deliver a better service,” he said.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager, acknowledged the route has suffered from overcrowding and cancelled trips, but he said a number of operational changes and the addition of five bus drivers to the route have led to improvements. He said there were 280 canceled trips on the 111 route last year during the week of Labor Day; this year there were 26, he said.

Lang adopted a milder tone on Monday than he did a week ago, saying there is no “silver bullet” to address the problems with the 111 route. He urged the T and the control board to take the lead in forming a task force of all interested parties to address delays on the 111 bus and improve alternative ways of getting back and forth between Boston and Chelsea.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said her office would explore ways to ease the impact of the North Washington Street Bridge reconstruction and work with the Coast Guard to reduce delays caused by the raising and lowering of the Chelsea Street Bridge, which affects travel times on the Chelsea Silver Line and other buses connecting to the Blue Line.

Chris Dempsey, the director of Transportation for Massachusetts, urged the state Department of Transportation to address concerns about the 111 bus by testing a dedicated bus lane on the Tobin Bridge or imposing higher tolls at peak periods to reduce congestion.

Pollack said her agency would explore options with the Tobin Bridge, but she sounded skeptical that a dedicated bus lane would make much difference unless it was matched with a similar lane along the rest of the route. T officials said they would reach out to Chelsea officials to explore their receptivity.

T officials said they would form a task force, begin exploring possible service improvements, and report back to the control board in 60 days.

Asked her reaction, Bongiovanni of GreenRoots said: “Complete bullshit.”

That was her general reaction, but she was particularly incensed that Ramirez said he had been meeting with Chelsea officials. She said he had reached out to City Council President Damali Vidot on Monday morning.

Construction Causing Headaches For Chelsea Bus Riders

WBUR by Katie Lannan, State House News Service

Frustrated Chelsea commuters on Monday brought their concerns before state transportation officials, asking for relief on a bus route they said was plagued by delays and congestion.

Members of the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board, in turn, floated the idea of creating a task force to explore transportation needs in the city.

“Why are we paying the exact same fares for the worst service in the entire state, I ask you," said Roseann Bongiovanni, a former Chelsea City Council president who now heads the community organization GreenRoots.

Bongiovanni was one of several community members who addressed either the control board or the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board in their back-to-back meetings Monday about the 111 bus and other transit issues in Chelsea.

The 111 bus has the MBTA's third-highest ridership, serving 11,800 passengers per weekday, MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville said. It runs between Revere and Boston's Haymarket station, passing through Chelsea and crossing the Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River along the way.

A planned two-month closure of the off-ramp from the Tobin Bridge to Chelsea's Beacon Street for repair work began on Aug. 27, pushing the 111 onto a detour route. The shift creates a dynamic of "bus-stop roulette," with passengers and in some cases drivers unsure where the proper stop is, Paula Garrity told the Control Board.

"Chelsea depends on the 111," Garrity said.

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What is the T’s Chelsea Plan?

Commonwealth Magazine by Bruce Mohl

City officials and FMCB’s Lang say it isn’t working

THE MBTA UNVEILED the “Chelsea Plan” in May to address lengthening commute times into Boston, but now the plan is coming under fire from a member of the Fiscal and Management Control Board who says it isn’t working.

At last Monday’s meeting of the control board, Brian Lang said the Route 111 bus, which carries about 12,000 passengers a day, is facing an “immediate crisis.” He demanded an accounting from T officials at this Monday’s meeting.

In a memo to Chelsea’s city manager in early May, T General Manager Luis Ramirez outlined what he called the Chelsea Plan to address ongoing issues with the commute between Chelsea and Boston and the prospect for more severe delays during a series of construction projects on the Tobin and North Washington Street Bridges.

Ramirez said the run time of the 111 bus could be up to 45 minutes longer during the peak construction period in July 2019.  “Outside of July 2019, the route could be up to 20 minutes longer than the current run times,” he said.

The 111 bus runs from Everett through Revere and Chelsea, over the Tobin Bridge, and to Haymarket in Boston via the North Washington Street Bridge. The buses are often crowded and regularly run late because of traffic congestion. The 111’s performance has also suffered in the past because the T frequently diverted its buses and drivers to plug holes in the schedule of other, less frequent routes.

The Chelsea Plan called for adding five drivers to the 111 route to eliminate cancellations and easing congestion on the bus by diverting passengers to the Silver Line, the 116 and 117 buses that connect to the Blue Line at Maverick Station, and to commuter rail at Chelsea Station.

Ramirez said T research indicates 59 percent of the Route 111 riders are within a five-minute walk of the 116 or 117 bus. The research also shows 40 percent of Route 111 trips start or end within a quarter mile of Chelsea Station or North Station.

To encourage more Chelsea residents to take commuter rail, the T said it wouldn’t charge them if they had a Charlie Card. Damali Vidot, president of the Chelsea City Council, told CommonWealth last week that many of the conductors were never informed of the arrangement and nothing came of it. “It’s been a mess,” she said.

On Friday, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the transit agency had alerted conductors again to the Chelsea Plan’s terms.

“It has been brought to the T’s attention that some commuter rail conductors were not aware of the directive issued in the spring, so we spoke with Keolis and the attached directive was re-issued this week,” Pesaturo said in an email. “The MBTA apologizes to any customers who were told their Charlie Cards were not valid for a trip to North Station.”

Chelsea transportation issues to top agenda for MBTA oversight board

Curbed Boston by Tom Acitelli

The 111 bus from Revere to Haymarket is a particular concern—how to speed up the notoriously crowded route.

The glacial pace and the frequent overcrowding (and cancellations) of the No. 111 bus from Revere to Haymarket will top the agenda of the MBTA’s oversight committee when it meets next week.

In particular, the impact of the bus route’s woes on commuters from Chelsea will be front and center as planned bridge construction threatens to slow even further what’s already the third most popular MBTA bus route.

The debate over the 111 also highlights what is sometimes called transportation equity as Chelsea residents endure a lot more than MBTA riders from more affluent areas in trying to get to downtown Boston via the 111.

“We’re talking to people who work and get paid on an hourly basis, and when they get to work late they lose income,” MBTA oversight board member Brian Lang told the Globe’s Adam Vaccaro. “And if they’re late enough they may lose their jobs.”

To accentuate the point about transportation equity, Lang cited a recent board decision to table a proposal to install new WiFi towers along commuter rail routes because of concerns from suburban property owners.

Meanwhile, the MBTA says it is already trying to speed up the 111 and alleviate overcrowding through adjusted bus-dispatching policies.