ACTION ALERT: Public Transit Is Critical to the Commonwealth’s Economic Recovery
December 03, 2020

WRITTEN BY RICK DIMINO, President & CEO

The MBTA is facing a looming budget deficit for next fiscal year (FY22) and an uncertain future as result of anemic ridership during COVID-19. To respond to this crisis, the T launched the Forging Ahead planning process to find solutions that close the budget gap, including internal cost savings goals, reallocation of capital dollars, and service level changes.

A Better City has urged the MBTA to wait before taking votes that cut transit service next year. These service reductions and cuts to our vital public transit system will hinder the region’s economic recovery, reduce mobility, and derail the Commonwealth’s progress to reduce greenhouse emissions from the transportation sector.
 
The MBTA is accepting feedback on the Forging Ahead proposals prior to the vote by the MBTA’s Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) on December 14, 2020. The business community voice is critical and must be part of the conversation on service cuts and on transit demand post-pandemic.
 
We encourage you to submit comments to publicengagement@mbta.com by no later than December 4th and we are providing a possible template below.
 

Dear General Manager Poftak:
 
I am writing to urge you to delay the decision on the MBTA’s Forging Ahead proposals currently scheduled for the December 14, 2020, meeting of the MBTA’s Fiscal Management Control Board.
 
The MBTA’s Forging Ahead plan proposes significant cuts to transit service that . . .

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TESTIMONY | MBTA Service Cuts: JOINT MEETING OF THE MASSDOT FMCB
November 23, 2020

TESTIFIED BY SCOTT MULLEN, TDM Director 

ABC currently operates three Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) that provide commute services and direct support to tens of thousands of employees in the City of Boston. Our membership includes some of the largest health care institutions providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. We respectfully submit the following comments:

  1. This is not the time for service cuts: While progress against the virus has been slow and stuttered, transit ridership has been consistent. The 330,000 daily ridership number has been used to explain why cuts in service are necessary. Instead, the MBTA should build upon that solid ridership base through a robust outreach effort to highlight the comprehensive safety protocols and initiatives of the Ride Safer campaign.
  2. Riders want to come back to the T: Our recent survey of 4200 metro-Boston commuters found that most don’t want to change the way they commute and that telework will play a smaller part in future plans than many thought when the pandemic began. Vaccines are showing promise and companies that have relied on telework are forming return to the office plans. This is not the time for service cuts that cannot be easily restored. We are concerned that cuts as deep and broad as proposed will ensure the negative ripple effects of the pandemic will far outlast those of the virus itself and will hamper our region’s economic recovery.
  3. All transit is essential: While a great deal of analysis has been done as part of the Forging Ahead initiative, it seems 'essential service' as defined in this process is entirely spatial in nature. While it is important to maintain service in places where other options are scarce, it is critical that service is maintained at times when other options are scarce. Ending bus and subway service earlier each day and . . .

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TESTIMONY | I-90 Multimodal Project: JOINT MEETING OF THE MASSDOT FMCB
November 23, 2020

TESTIFIED BY TOM RYAN, Senior Advisor on Policy, Government & Community Affairs

Thank you to the MassDOT Board for hearing my comments regarding the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project today.

A Better City is extremely disappointed by MassDOT’s recent decision to delay the selection of the Preferred Alternative until summer 2021. With more than 90% of public comments received in favor of the Modified All At-Grade Option, the people have spoken—there is no need to delay or debate. At this critical juncture, we should be moving forward with the Modified All At-Grade design to tee up this transformative project for funding under the Biden Administration.

We do not support MassDOT’s renewed focus on the No Build Option and are extremely concerned that this protracted process is simply kicking the can to waste taxpayer dollars on a temporary repair of the Allston Viaduct. Repair of the existing viaduct would be all pain and no gain for commuters, visitors, and neighborhood residents alike—years of construction and congestion to repair a relic of the past.

Today, we reaffirm our support for the Modified All At-Grade option and we restate our opposition to the Modified Highway Viaduct, Soldiers Field Road Hybrid, and No Build Options. In my written comments, I’m enclosing a list of the dozens of major organizations, municipalities, and elected officials that share our perspective. After more than six years, support for the all at-grade design has never been stronger. This consensus is reflected in a full-page ad in today’s Boston Globe.

As you know, the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project is poised to shape our region for the next century—I implore MassDOT to seize this unparalleled opportunity to build a truly transformational project that will advance accessibility, equity, and sustainability for the city, the region, and the Commonwealth.

Thank . . .

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TESTIMONY | Forging Ahead: Joint Meeting of the MassDOT FMCB
November 23, 2020

TESTIFIED BY CAITLIN ALLEN CONNELLY, PROJECT DIRECTOR 

A Better City and its Board ask the FMCB to send a strong signal that Boston will be open for business with a gold standard transit system. Before you complete the Forging Ahead exercise and vote at the next meeting, we would like you to:

  1. Delay decision on service planning changes. Based on recent employee and employer surveys, as well as announcements regarding a potential COVID-19 vaccine, there are strong indications that ridership will return earlier than anticipated. The agency’s budget is whole in FY21, and it can afford to wait for more clarity on the future before deciding on drastic, harmful service cuts.
  2. Use Economic Scenario #2. The MBTA is using Economic Scenario #3—the “worst case” scenario—for budget forecasting. If the MBTA adopts the more likely Scenario #2 to predict its budget shortfall, the agency reduces its gap by $100 million in FY22. This sum could effectively take service cuts off the table.
  3. Dedicate existing and new sources of revenue to fill the projected budget gap. There are revenue sources available that the MBTA could tap into without outside approval to prevent service cuts, e.g. repurposing the Additional Assistance Fund & dedicating the Operating Budget Deficiency Fund. Additional revenue could be available with legislative approval, specifically with TNC fee increases and proposals in the House Transportation Finance bill. There should be an urgent effort to collaborate with state legislative leaders to make resources available.
  4. Accelerate design work on major unfunded capital projects. Please don’t be caught flat-footed when there is a chance for federal infrastructure funds. The Commonwealth and MBTA must be ready to move ahead with transformational projects that would help Massachusetts . . .

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ENERGY EFFICIENCY PRIORITIES IN THE NEXT THREE-YEAR ENERGY EFFICIENCY PLAN
November 18, 2020

WRITTEN BY YVE TORRIE, DIRECTOR OF CLIMATE, ENERGY, & RESILIENCE

Energy efficiency is, and will continue to be, a core pathway for buildings to decarbonize as the City of Boston develops a Building Emissions Performance Standard for existing buildings and a Net Zero Buildings Standard for new construction, and the  State Legislature develops economy-wide emission reduction targets to be followed by sector-specific targets at a later date. Although energy efficiency is one of many pathways for buildings to reach these goals – others include renewable energy, offsets, carbon pricing, and alternative compliance payments – efficiency as a core decarbonization strategy features prominently in all policies under development.

Many A Better City buildings have been working diligently to increase efficiency within their buildings for years. A key energy efficiency motivator has been the Commercial and Industrial (C&I) incentives provided through the Mass Save program as part of the utilities’ Three-Year Energy Efficiency Plans that are monitored by the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC). A Better City and the Green Ribbon Commission’s (GRC’s) Commercial and Health Care Working Groups develop C&I recommendations for inclusion in the utility’s Three-Year Energy Efficiency Plans and track the progress towards achieving the goals throughout the course of each three-year cycle.

Currently, we are in the 2019-2021 three-year plan cycle and have just conducted an analysis of the utility’s progress to date. In a nutshell, progress towards achieving C&I savings targets is lagging behind the necessary pace to meet the 2019-2021 Three-Year Plan goals. The planning process for the 2022-2024 Three-Year Plan has already started with a series . . .

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Statement: MBTA Service Plan Changes Urging the FMCB to Establish Three Principles During the Forging Ahead Process
November 17, 2020

WRITTEN BY TOM RYAN, Senior Advisor on Policy, Government and Community Affairs

A Better City extends its thanks to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) for opening up a process for determining the best path forward for the T to provide safe, adequate, and equitable transit service during the COVID-19 pandemic; support the future return to the workplace; and tackle challenging budget projections. A Better City requests the FMCB to establish three principles during the Forging Ahead process.
 
First: The MBTA Should Pause for Three Months Before Voting on Transit Service Reductions that Impact FY22. This schedule would allow for clarity to emerge from the federal government on additional federal relief legislation that should include another round of transit funding. A three month pause would also give the state legislature time to finish their work in the current legislative session. In the interim, the MBTA should continue to implement strategic redeployment of resources and transit service that best meet current demand and allow the T to quickly redeploy services this spring and fall to support the Commonwealth’s economic recovery.
 
Second: There Should Not Be Any Permanent Cuts or Transit Service Changes With Long-Term Impacts. The MBTA must avoid transit service cuts that will harm Massachusetts’ economic recovery and weaken the Commonwealth’s ability to meet increased ridership as workers return to the office. Results from a recent A Better City employee survey indicate that (1) steady increases in workers returning to workplace could begin as early as next spring and summer, and (2) commuters would like to return to the same mode they used prior to the pandemic. Implementation of cuts at the time when more riders will need transit service is simply to wrong approach. It is imperative that robust transit service . . .

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A BETTER CITY CONVERSATIONS: Understanding market opportunities to reduce energy spending
November 16, 2020

NOVEMBER 5 | 10AM - 11AM | ZOOM MEETING 

Earlier this month, A Better City convened with longtime partners CustomerFirst Renewables to discuss the importance of current market realities and shared proactive strategies for management of energy spending for organizations to reduce costs and limit budget uncertainty. We were thrilled to have Bob Griffin, Vice President
Business Development, David Rissmiller, Vice President Wholesale & Retail Energy Services, and Win Sheffield, Senior Engagement Manager, Client Service & Innovation join us for the program. 

During the one hour dialogue, CustomerFirst Renewables covered: 

• Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) community solar program
• Massachusetts Clean Peak Energy Standard (CPS) with onsite battery storage
• Understanding and eliminating inefficiencies in retail energy supply (electricity and natural gas)

The program ended with a thought-provoking Q&A section led by Executive Vice President, Kate Dineen. Though CustomerFirst Renewable's program is limited to large scale organizations, the program was found to be useful across many of A Better City's members. 

TO WATCH THE EVENT, CLICK HERE

TO REVIEW THE SLIDES, CLICK . . .

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You Can Ride Safer with the MBTA
October 28, 2020

WRITTEN BY CAITLIN ALLEN-CONNELLY, Project Director 

Safety First

On any given day pre-COVID-19, the MBTA’s most important focus was providing safe and reliable service throughout the Greater Boston area. The onset of the pandemic brought this critical task to a new level and cost.1

Like many transit agencies, it was the first time the T had to respond to a public health crisis of this magnitude. To their credit, the MBTA was swift to enact initial mitigation actions to help prevent the spread of the virus across the entire system. The T is continuing these efforts and also responding to changing demand and ridership patterns to provide adequate service during the pandemic, manage workforce impacts, and put in place effective crisis communication.

Communication is Vital for Today’s Riders and Tomorrow’s Commuters

The dissemination of information during a crisis is absolutely critical to reassure the public and to ensure safety protocols are being followed and respected. For the T, communication and outreach had to target and quickly reach employees as well as customers. During the lockdown, the T relied on its website, weekly videos from the General Manager, and social media to keep riders informed about service and mitigation measures.  As the Commonwealth began its phased reopening, the MBTA launched the Ride Safer campaign to communicate the agency’s extensive actions to keep the transit system safe.

The Ride Safer campaign is more than just an outreach effort—it is a pact between the . . .

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The Homestretch to the Governor’s Desk: An Update on Massachusetts Climate Policy
October 22, 2020

Written by Isabella Gambill, Senior Policy Advisor on Climate, Energy, & Resilience

As you may know from previous blog posts and A Better City conversations with the Energy and Environment Unit, the Massachusetts legislature is currently in the process of reconciling two very different pieces of climate legislation before the end of legislative session in December 2020. With S.2500 An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy released by the Massachusetts Senate in January 2020 and the H.4933 An Act Creating a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean and Thriving Commonwealth released by the House in July 2020, a climate conference committee has been formed with six members from both branches to reach consensus on a final climate bill to put on the Governor’s desk by the end of the year.

Although there has been considerable momentum in the legislature on clean energy, climate targets, environmental justice, and climate funding bills this session, the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have understandably put climate policy, among other policy initiatives, on hold. After the legislature voted to extend the legislative session from ending on July 31st, 2020, to December 31st, 2020, the climate conference committee has not met, so it is hard to determine if any progress is being made.  Conversations about what the conferees are considering are happening behind closed doors, without the opportunity for further public hearings. However, A Better City, and many of the organizations we collaborate with, have submitted comments to the climate conference committee with suggestions for the anticipated climate bill.

Thanks to the engagement and input of our Energy and Environment Advisory Committee, A Better City submitted substantial comments to the climate conference committee, covering topics relevant to bills S.2500 and H.4933 like greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, . . .

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ACTION ALERT: I-90 Allston Multimodal Project
October 15, 2020

A Better City Community:
 
Thanks to your advocacy, MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration recently accepted a version of the A Better City/City of Boston design as the all at-grade alternative to carry forward in the formal review process for the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project. It’s now called the “Modified All At-Grade Option.”
 
This development brings the Commonwealth one step closer to realizing a vision that improves mobility for all, while protecting and providing greater access to the Charles River—but the fight is not over! 
 
MassDOT is now accepting feedback on the three options currently under review. Please consider submitting feedback to MassDOT to voice your support for the Modified At-Grade Option.
 
Please see the template below and be sure to submit your comments to I-90Allston@state.ma.us by no later than October 30th. 
 
Secretary Pollack,
 
I am writing to urge you to select the Modified All At-Grade Option as the Preferred Alternative for the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project.
 
Of the alternatives presented, the Modified All At-Grade Option best meets the stated project purpose to address roadway deficiencies and safety concerns, and the stated project need to address the multimodal deficiencies within the broader transportation system. This design—which includes the Paul Dudley White Boardwalk and living shoreline and can maintain weekday two-track commuter rail service throughout . . .

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