A pro-public transportation group asked Massachusetts lawmakers to commute to the State House via train, subway, bus or boat on Thursday. About 50 complied. 

On this last day of winter, with all but the commuter rails back in full service, it wasn’t exactly the painful experience commuters have had recently. But it was an attempt to show lawmakers the everyday commute for many constituents. I spent the morning on a train with Democratic State Representative Cory Atkins of Concord: 

Atkins walks the two short blocks from her home in Concord to the commuter rail stop. But this is a new exercise. She almost never takes the train to work.

“I drive. I drive ‘cause our hours are so irregular that I never know what time I’m going to be out tonight. I have to sort of forgo my evening activities to do this today because I don’t know what time the train would bring me home.”

The train is still running on a Weekday Recovery Schedule, and will be for the rest of the month. There’s still about a foot of snow on the tracks. But it’s a sunny, clear day. Atkins is really about a month late to experience a typical winter train ride.

“One of my staff stood on a train platform, being pushed by crowds of people in -18 degree weather. I said, ‘No, don’t do that!’”

The train arrives on time and Atkins climbs aboard. There are plenty of seats. It’s a contrast to last month, when storms delayed trains for hours and inside it was standing room only. Atkins isn’t quite sure where to sit, or how much her ticket will cost. She finds a spot and introduces herself to a constituent, Marc Redlich of Acton.

  “You picked a good train today."

"I picked a good day, too. It’s not sleeting, it’s not snowing."

"And traffic has been a little lighter in March. Generally on the roads.”

The conductor comes by to collect tickets. Atkins buys one – it’s $8.50 cents.

“I thought it was expensive. Problem is no matter what we charge for it, we can’t pay for it. We’re in a legislative paradox right now as to where to get the money that we need for the transportation systems that our economy demands.”  

Redlich asks Atkins a question that points out that many of those making decisions about funding public transportation, don’t often use public transportation.

“How do you think the Western Massachusetts lawmakers will view raising money? Cause in the past they’ve been less than enthusiastic about that."

Atkinsr responded "They’re always less than enthusiastic. That’s one of the tug and pulls in the legislature. And they want the New York-Berkshire line that we can’t afford at this point. Part of the debate is that people think we’ve spent too much time expanding the services and not enough time maintaining. I think there may be a kernel of truth to that.”

Sitting beside the Representative is a friendly group who ride together almost every day. Train camaraderie eased some of the tension during the long delays this winter. These people say they just want more accurate communication on the digital train signs and social media feeds.

“It’s a 5-minute window. Like this morning we’re going to be on time. I think the worst thing is the lack of communication. It’s common, or was common, during that period to show up, you wait, the train is 10 minutes late and then a message comes up and says it’s 10 to 20 minutes late. You hit 25 minutes and then another message comes up 40 minutes. So that people understand, I’m going to be waiting for three hours. I better get a coffee.”

We ride about 30 minutes to Boston. Just inside North Station, a volunteer with the group Gov on the T greets lawmakers arriving. Harry Mattison says today’s push is an effort to remind them that public transportation keeps the economy going.

“We’re heard people say they wish the T had more frequent service so they could actually take it and depend on it for work. We’ve had a request for better bathrooms at North Station. People say they wish there were more people making the decisions at the Statehouse joining us today.”

Gov on the T asked all legislators who live within an hour of the Statehouse to commute using public transportation. That’s about 90 state reps and senators. About 50 participated. Atkins is optimistic about repairs – as a newcomer would be after a smooth trip.

“My riders are very supportive, they’re supportive of increases in taxes for things like this. So it’s just political will. It comes down to money and good management. So we’ll see. We had a beautiful day.”

It’s just one ride, one experience, but Gov on the T hopes it will become a regular practice for Atkins and other lawmakers. Today is at least an attempt to give them a better sense of what their constituents go through to get to work each day.