MONTGOMERY/SOUTHAMPTON – Public transportation can impact a region in a variety of ways. For Western Massachusetts, public transportation is considered by some to be lagging behind that of nearby metropolitan areas. State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, of the 1st Hampshire district seat has been pushing to further fund public transportation in the area, and she hopes to make strides in that effort over the course of 2020 and 2021.
“Western Massachusetts is currently in a position where we have some public transportation, but not nearly enough of it,” said Sabadosa. “Not enough people use it as an effective way to get around.”
She said that one barrier to people using current transportation is that it can take far longer to get from one place to another than it would in a car, which is not an effective use of people’s time from an economic development point of view, according to Sabadosa. Although, she said, there is a population of people who completely rely on the bus system.
“It is hard to calculate how many people would use public transportation if it were more available,” said Sabadosa.
She noted that there is currently discussion of passing a transportation bond bill that would fund capital expenses, as well as a revenue bill to help pay for public transportation. One thought for lawmakers, however, is making sure that specific forms of public transportation will work in specific places.
“Buses may not be effective in the Hilltowns, but some sort of shuttle service may work,” said Sabadosa, “We need to be focusing on how to be nimble and responding to the needs of the community and figuring out how to pay for it. We have not invested in public transportation in a long time and we are seeing the side effects.”
She said that significant amounts of money will need to be raised to modernize public transportation in Western Massachusetts, a process which she hopes will include investments in electric buses, electric vehicle charging stations, and pushing for high fuel efficiency standards.
She noted that she thinks the state will need to raise at least $1 billion to fund transportation. To fund that venture may take several steps. Sabadosa suggested closing certain corporate tax loopholes for people with offshore accounts, while also making sure that small businesses that are registered as corporations are paying lower tax rates.
She also floated the idea of increasing the gas tax, but noted that it would be one of the less popular options.
“Increasing the gas tax is a hard sell in Western Massachusetts in communities where there is no other option,” said Sabadosa. “It’s a little punitive. If we were to raise it, it should be offset with gas credits.”
One public transportation option she would like to see more of is trains. She noted her excitement for the Valley Flyer in the North Valley, which she said is seeing good ridership numbers. However, she noted the numbers would be better if the train was more frequent and had lower fairs.
When expanding train options, however, it has to be made sure that the service itself is effective, and that the western part of the state can catch up with the more-populated eastern half.
“We have to make sure that it is sustainable in the long term. The same is true for the east and west rail,” said Sabadosa, “That conversation has not come into the current debate yet because the study has not yet been done for an east and west rail. We do need to make sure it is on the table.”
Considerations when developing a rail system that would connect Pittsfield to Boston include what to do about zoning and existing housing. Homeowners who live near the site of a possible train tracks may be unhappy about the noise and changes to their property values.
“It is not acceptable for Western Massachusetts to get trains that prices out existing residents,” said Sabadosa, “There needs to be a municipal and state level partnership so that we do not become downtown Boston.”