It’s rush hour at South Station on a weekday afternoon. A small crowd of people stares up at the giant schedule, searching for trains. Others pass quickly – moving through their daily routine. For them, crossing the city after work in downtown Boston can be a long haul.
“Actually, it’s pretty decent for now. Sometimes we have minor setbacks. The commuter rail, pretty dependable. You know what I’m saying?”
And commuter Joy Gonzalez, of Dorchester, agreed.
“The parking is very expensive and I can’t afford the parking down here," she said. "It’s more convenient to take the train because it’s so quick.”
But for all of the improvements to the MBTA, there are still pockets of the city that aren’t well served by public transportation. It’s one thing Menino will leave for the next mayor to solve.
Geeta Pradhan is associate vice president for programs at the Boston Foundation. She said there are areas of the city that are devoid of transit access.
“There are the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, where the Orange Line went earlier and once it was dismantled and moved closer to Jamaica Plain, have been devoid of transit access,” she said. “These are neighborhoods that are primarily low-income, minority. And 40 percent of them work downtown. And for them travel time takes anywhere between 40 and 110, 120 minutes.”
That’s at least an hour a day away from home, family, children, Pradhan pointed out. And it’s not much easier for teens in those areas to get to work, or to afterschool programs.
Boston mayoral candidate John Connolly wants to be the next mayor to unite residents via transportation improvements. He said we need to make it easier and cheaper to travel around the city.
“We’ve talked about a UPass that was focused on college more than anything," he said "I’d like to see that type of program available across the board.”
When it comes to transportation and the mayor’s race, there are some things the next mayor can’t fix, and some things he can. He can't make major changes to the MBTA service and stops, but he can lobby on Beacon Hill for more money. He can't make major changes to the highways, but he can work on streets and potholes. He can't change the attitudes of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, but he can encourage education and signage. For all commuters, Connolly would like to simply see more public transportation nodes, some of which could be built by private companies.
“This is the example of what we’ve got to do more of. New Balance is building the commuter rail station there. They’re paying for it. So there’s a T infrastructure upgrade funded by a Boston headquartered company. That’s so crucial to our development. It’s going to benefit the company, it’s also going to benefit all the residents of Allston-Brighton.”
This, just as the Governor and MBTA have announced a $1.3 billion program to replace Red and Orange Line trains, and fit the Mass Turnpike with all-electronic, open road tolls.
Parking remains a headache, but the number of registered vehicles in the city has dropped by nearly 14 percent in the last five years, down to about 312,000 today, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. In a recent debate, Connolly addressed the practice of intentionally creating a parking shortage to encourage public transit.
“In general, I think we need to in appropriate parts of the city look at lowering the parking requirement so we can create a housing market that allows that young family or artist to stay in the city.”
Connolly said reducing parking spaces is a strategy for lowering construction costs and creating a true middle market for housing in Boston. But that won’t help traffic. His answer to alleviating grid-lock? Public transit. It all goes back to public transit. And closely related: his support for the Hubway bike share program.
“There’s no reason why motorists should have all the privilege of the roads. It should belong to everybody. Jim: Does that mean you want cycle tracks everywhere? John: I’m a big supporter of cycle tracks and I’ll make sure there’s a real capital investment in my budget as mayor.”
Cycle tracks may mean safer, blocked-off areas for cyclists, but Connolly says he’d prioritize safer intersections, too, to protect pedestrians. It’s all part of the effort to make safety the top priority when it comes to transportation, with convenience a close second. But for some, the cost and hassle of getting around on public transportation are prohibitive.
“I usually drive. Honestly, I don’t really go anywhere. Home and work, so I drive.”
Tommy Brown, 37, lives with his young daughter in Roxbury. He said he chooses to live just blocks from her school and his job at the YMCA.
“I live right down the street from the train station, it’s the Jackson station. Just walk there. One train, right downtown. I don’t really take public transportation that often. It’s kind of expensive.”
As a result, Brown’s world is pretty small. Some would say isolated. But he says he’s happy to “keep it simple,” with an urban life that involves a lot of walking and the occasional drive.
His only suggestion for the new mayor? Fix the potholes.
Watch Connolly Talk Transit In Dudley Square: