Entries by Harris Foulkes

Telecommuting Tax Credit Stands to Help Public Transportation

Governor Baker recently proposed a telecommuting tax credit that would incentivize businesses to allow employees to work from home. The program is a part of a bill that would create a $2,000-per-employee tax credit, capped at $50 million annually, awarded to businesses that allow working from home as a way to reduce the number of cars on the road. The Governor hopes the program will reduce congestion and cut commuting times. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Massachusetts ranks 20th in the country in the percentage of full-time telecommuters, with 4.7% of the workforce working from home. The tax credit is part of the Governor’s $18 billion long-term transportation spending plan. The telecommuter tax credit would presumably be part of […]

MBTA Facilities in Desperate Need of Spending Increase

A number of MBTA facilities have deteriorated in recent years. As a result, many commuters are left to navigate stations with crumbling steps, limited access for the disabled, broken elevators, and leaking ceilings. The condition of these facilities is not surprising, given the T’s lack of spending compared to peer transportation systems.  A 2018 report published by the MBTA rated the agency’s stations and parking facilities on a scale of 1 to 5. The report found that nearly 60 percent of the MBTA’s 378 stations and parking facilities scored 2 or less, meaning they need significant repairs. Seventy eight of those properties had a rating of 1. To make matters worse, some of the worst-rated stations include major hubs such […]

MBTA Struggles with Commuter Rail Ridership Count

Accurate ridership calculations are critical for public transportation planning as they are a key factor in prioritizing projects. MBTA ridership statistics help determine the optimal allocation of capital among lines and trains as well as projecting capacity requirements for station platforms, waiting areas, and parking facilities.  Further, ridership patterns on existing lines can be used to predict probable patterns on proposed service extensions. The commuter rail falls far short in obtaining sufficient ridership data needed for highly calibrated project planning. Unlike subway and bus services that are operated directly by the MBTA, the commuter rail system lacks the faregates or fareboxes that, under ideal circumstances, can count passengers. The conductors on each commuter rail train must collect fares and inspect […]

MBTA’s Bus Program Driving in the Wrong Direction

According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, the MBTA’s bus program has the second largest ridership of all MBTA modes of transportation trailing only the heavy rail system. However, in recent years ridership has begun to decline while operating expenses have risen.  From 2015 to 2017 unlinked passenger bus trips decreased by 13.3%. This was a significant shift as ridership had increased by 22.1% from 2009 to 2015. Further, total operating expenses continued to increase despite the falling ridership. Since 2015, when ridership began to decrease significantly, bus operating expenses increased by 7.1%. The expenses show no signs of slowing, as they grew by 46.4% between 2007 and 2017, increasing every year in that span. This rise led to the total operating […]

No Clear Correlation Between Fare Revenue and Ridership

In recent weeks, many MBTA riders have expressed frustration about the T’s recent fare hike. In fact, some riders are volunteering to stand on platforms and lead a conversation about what riders can do to roll back the hike. However, the T is unlikely to budge. Even when ridership declines for a period, fare revenue continues to climb. The last three fare hikes occurred in 2012, 2014, and 2016. While all three led to a decrease in unlinked passenger trips the following year, they generated an increase in fare revenue. In fact, fare revenue increased every year from 2007-2017, with the exception of 2010. Further, the largest increase in fare revenue actually came in a year in which ridership declined. […]

Vehicle Maintenance Expenses Reveal Need for Updated T System

The MBTA is in the midst of a transformative $8 billion, five-year capital investment program. There is perhaps no better metric that represents the necessity of the MBTA’s initiative than vehicle maintenance expenses.  According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, between 2007 and 2017 the T experienced a nearly 60 percent increase in overall vehicle maintenance expenses as spending grew from $211,925,186 in 2007 to $338,597,765 in 2017. While peer transportation systems also experienced higher vehicle maintenance costs, the MBTA far surpassed them. In fact, the T went from seventh to fourth among its peers in terms of vehicle maintenance expenses between 2007 and 2017. One of the main reasons the MBTA experienced such a significant increase was the rise in vehicle […]

Demand Response Transportation on the Decline

Despite a growth in public transportation use in recent years, the MBTA has seen a decline in demand response transportation. Demand response transportation is on-demand service primarily for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as some other services like commuter shuttles. According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, the MBTA’s demand response transportation experienced a 20 percent decrease between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. The MBTA’s primary demand response transportation is the RIDE, a paratransit service that serves the elderly and disabled. The decline in RIDE users is likely due to the emergence of ridesharing apps, as usage of the MBTA’s demand response transportation began to decline in 2013, shortly after Uber launched in Massachusetts. This is unsurprising considering the convenience ridesharing apps […]

MBTA Strikes Balance Nationally with Number of Vehicles Operated

The MBTA provides incredible benefits to the citizens of Massachusetts. Given that Metropolitan Boston provides 74 percent of the state’s jobs and generates 84 percent of its gross domestic product, the MBTA has the enormous responsibility of transporting about 500,000 commuters daily to sustain economic growth in the Commonwealth.  While the T has the obvious benefit of helping commuters get to work, including the 27 percent of MBTA light and heavy rail riders who are from zero-car households, the T actually generates $11.4 billion in annual benefits ($3.6 billion in travel cost savings, $7.1 billion in travel time savings, $640 million in avoided crash costs, and $30 million in avoided pollution costs). Given the importance of public transportation in the […]

MBTA’s Popular Heavy Rail System Lacking Expenditures

The MBTA’s heavy rail system is made up of the Red, Orange, and Blue lines and is a critical part of greater Boston’s public transportation network. In fact, given that about 57 percent of MBTA trips are on subways, heavy rail is crucial to countless individuals and companies in the Boston area. According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, from 2007 to 2017 unlinked passenger trips on the T grew by over 44 percent. In the same time period, the heavy rail system was the most popular of the T’s transit modes, chalking up 1.7 billion unlinked passenger trips, or nearly 60 million more than any other MBTA mode of transportation. In fact, the heavy rail system experienced a 14% growth between […]

MBTA’s Planned Spending Comes at a Welcome Time

With the MBTA making the massive commitment to spend $8 billion on capital maintenance over the next five years, it is important to understand recent T capital expenditures if we are to grasp the significance of the agency’s investment. Over the past decade the T has ramped up spending, but it is still far from the planned $8 billion. Between 2013 and 2017, the T spent $3.29 billion on its bus, commuter rail, ferry, heavy rail, light rail, and trolleybus systems. While this was a large increase from the $2.1 billion spent over the previous five years (2008-2012) on the same modes, it is far from the spending Governor Baker has planned. It is, however, clear that in recent years […]

The MBTA’s Escalating Operating Expenses

The MBTA experienced a significant increase in operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile between 2007 and 2017, according to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com. During that period, total operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile for MBTA bus, commuter rail, ferryboat, heavy rail, light rail, and trolleybus service increased by an average of 49.31%. The most significant contributor to the increase was MBTA bus service, which experienced a nearly 67% increase in total operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile. In pure dollar terms, ferries experienced the greatest increase, with operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile increasing by $15.94 between 2007 and 2017, which was $5.31 more than the second biggest increase. Of the major modes of transportation, heavy rail experienced the smallest rise during […]

MBTA Exhibits Worrying Vehicle Revenue Miles Trend

Along with Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the T is the only other US transit agency that operates all five major types of terrestrial mass transit vehicles: light rail vehicles (the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed and Green Lines); heavy rail trains (the Blue, Orange, and Red Lines); regional rail trains (the commuter rail); electric trolleybuses (the Silver Line); and motor buses (MBTA Bus). Therefore, the T has an enormous responsibility to the public as a vast amount of commuters rely on it on a daily basis. Given its vast network, the MBTA is and should remain under constant scrutiny. A vehicle revenue mile is defined as one vehicle traveling one mile with revenue passengers are on board, and is one […]

MA Short-Term Rental Tax is a Big Win for Cape’s Wastewater Management

Massachusetts lawmakers recently passed legislation to extend the 5.7 percent surtax on hotel and motel room occupancy to short-term rentals. The legislation will also give towns the option of adding an additional 6 percent onto the tax; 9 percent if an owner rents out two or more units in the same community. The primary objective of the legislation is to capture revenue from rooms rented through online services like Airbnb. The bill will make Massachusetts the first state to track short-term rentals via a statewide registry. While Governor Baker returned the bill to Beacon Hill for more work because of his feeling that homeowners who rent their homes for less than 14 days a year should be exempt from the […]

Cape Cod’s Struggling Workforce

Cape Cod welcomes about four million tourists a year thanks to its standing as a top summer destination. To accommodate this influx of people, businesses on the Cape hire an estimated 20,000 temporary seasonal workers. With many towns having a small and aging population, employers, primarily from the restaurant and hotel industry, have to turn to foreign nationals to meet their seasonal labor needs. However, after visa laws were revised in 2018, a current shortage of these workers stands to threaten the Cape’s summer businesses. The H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. The amount of H-2B visas that can be issued nationwide is decided annually […]

Questions Surrounding Recreational Marijuana on Cape Cod

Through a 2016 ballot initiative, Massachusetts joined a small group of states that allow the sale of recreational marijuana. However, as the state gets closer to the opening of its first recreational pot shop, many regions in the Commonwealth are second guessing the sale of cannabis within their boundaries. In fact, about 70 communities have a recreational marijuana ban in place, and about 160 more cities and towns have a moratorium of some sort. Cape Cod’s towns have similar feelings, as many questions have arisen over the future of pot shops in the region. Residents on Cape Cod have been hesitant to introduce any type of legalized marijuana, primarily because of the concern that easier access could lead to increased […]

National Park Service Attracts Cape Cod Summer Visitors

The Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS), located in the towns of Chatham, Eastham, Orleans, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The land encompasses over 43,000 acres and nearly 40 miles of seashore. The National Park Service (an agency of the Department of Interior) is responsible for maintaining the Seashore’s pristine condition. The Department’s work is critical to the all-important Cape Cod tourism industry as there were two million National Seashore visits last summer. The importance of Cape Cod’s beaches is reflected in the number of Department of Interior employees located on the Cape who work to adhere to the Department’s mission of “Protecting and managing the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage.” In […]

Cape Cod’s Battle Against the Opioid Epidemic

In recent years, opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts have increased much faster than the national average. While steps are being taken to combat the problem, the crisis has challenged all the Commonwealth’s communities. Cape Cod has especially struggled. Of Massachusetts’ 14 counties, Barnstable had the fourth highest opioid overdose death rate of 31.39 per 100,000 people in 2017. One of the main factors contributing to the development of Cape Cod’s opioid problem was a high opiate prescription rate. In 2012 Cape Cod had an opiate prescription rate about 24 percent higher than the state average. While opioid-related overdose deaths decreased by nearly 19 percent on the Cape from 2016 to 2017, rescuers responded to 15 percent more overdose calls last year […]

School Choice Booming on Cape Cod

Each year, millions of dollars flow from one school system to another thanks to a 1991 Massachusetts law that created inter-district school choice, which offers parents the option of enrolling their children in the public-school district of a community other than their hometown. While the law allows each district to decide whether to accept out-of-district students, no district can deny its students the right to leave. Parents on Cape Cod are taking full advantage of the law. Preliminary estimates for the current school year from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show Cape schools are educating 2,595 school choice students, 1,127 more than nine years ago. In fact, Cape Cod students who take advantage of school choice make […]

Disappointing Decision Regarding High-Achieving Cape Cod Charter School

In 2004 the Barnstable County Horace Mann Charter School was founded to “Engage, educate, and challenge a diverse K-3 population to achieve the highest level of academic excellence.” The school has its own nine-member board of trustees, principal, and staff that under the Horace Mann format are given greater control over budgetary and teaching decisions than their counterparts in traditional public schools. The school stayed true to its commitment to diversity as English is the second language of 41 percent of the students, and it is the only elementary school in the district that accepts students from all of the town’s seven villages. Furthermore, a majority of the students are from low income households with at least 50 percent of […]

The Reality of Cape Cod’s Population Trend

Cape Cod, Massachusetts is known as a bustling tourist location that overflows with visitors eager to get close to the ocean during the stifling summer months. In fact, Cape Cod experiences a 50 percent increase in occupancy level between January and August. While the Cape continues to experience economic growth due to its booming tourism industry, the population trend of its all-season residents is cause for concern. Cape Cod’s Population: Summer vs. Winter When the summer tourists depart, they increasingly leave behind a dwindling and aging population, which could hamper economic development. Between 2000 and 2016 Cape Cod’s year-round population decreased by 3 percent, though it has stabilized in recent years. The trend is remarkable considering the Cape experienced a […]