Westborough: Transportation summit asks how to improve public transit

SmallerLogo-Wicked_LocalBy Brad Avery | Wicked Local Framingham 

An economic development group Tuesday kicked around ideas on how cities and towns can collaborate on improving public transportation in central Massachusetts and Greater Boston.

Comprised of economic development professionals from the region and the 495/MetroWest Partnership, the group Boroughs+ is focused on solving the “Last Mile” problem – how to get commuters from rail stations to their jobs a mile or more away.

According to David McCay, chairman of the Southborough Economic Development Committee, the Last Mile proves difficult for many commuters who find that they are often forced to walk or find other forms of transportation from rail stations, which can be especially difficult in bad weather. By improving public transportation, cities and towns can support local businesses and improve their own economies.

The summit, at the Doubletree Hotel, featured Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who spoke about the administration’s efforts to spur economic development and improve public transit. Noting efforts to improve the MBTA and to make the Registry of Motor Vehicles more customer-friendly, Polito also called on communities to remember that the workforce is “our biggest asset here in the commonwealth” and that an efficient public transportation system is vital to maintaining it.

“A lot of people live here in MetroWest and the central part of the state because you have a good quality of life,” Polito said. “Good schools, safe neighborhoods, good jobs. But it’s hard for people to get around. So we must be far more innovative about how we help people go from one place to the other.”

Polito also praised upcoming non-stop rail service from Worcester’s Union Station to Boston, which will also include express lines for those in towns like Grafton and Westborough. The transition of the highway toll system to EZ-Pass-only is also expected to relieve congestion on the MassPike and revenue from tolls will go towards infrastructure improvements on Rte. 128 and Interstates 90 and 495.

During a panel discussion, local planning and transportation experts pitched possible solutions to the Last Mile issue and other transit issues, including a proposal to utilize Uber and other ride-hailing services and to improve bus and shuttle services.

“Every time we get someone off the highway and into public transit we make drivers happier,” said Barry Bluestone, founding director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy. “Because if we could reduce the commute times … think of how many hours a week it would save (drivers) to spend with their families and so forth.”

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