Transportation in Massachusetts: Putting Band-Aids on a Patient that Needs Surgery

Jesse Mermell
Feb 20 · 5 min read
Credit: Boston Globe

I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated by a crumbling transportation system that we have known has been failing us for years — a system that’s holding people back, contributing to economic inequality, fueling climate change, and making it harder for our economy to thrive. And I’m perhaps even more frustrated by proposed “solutions” which so far amount to putting a band-aid on a patient that desperately needs surgery.

Earlier this month, Governor Baker stood in Boston before many of the state’s most prominent business leaders trumpeting himself as the transportation governor. In his fifth year on the job, in the throes of a transportation crisis, he’s not talking about the bold and comprehensive change that report after report (including a recent one released by the Governor’s own Future of Transportation Commission) have called for over the course of decades. Instead, he’s talking signal lights on trains, minor league investments, and small scale versions of big solutions like rapid bus transit. All nice things, but steps that fall far short of the surgery necessary to save the patient.

My frustration comes in part from beating this drum for so long, along with many other dedicated activists for transportation across the Commonwealth — many of whom have been making this case for decades. From advocating for micromobilty as a Select Board member in Brookline and leading the local push for Hubway (now BlueBikes), to working for Governor Patrick in the thick of the last big State House debate around transportation funding, to heading up the Alliance for Business Leadership and making the economic case for raising revenue from the most fortunate among us to invest in transportation infrastructure, I’ve been repeating myself for a while now — calling on elected and civic leaders to take sweeping action to address this crisis.

However, if repetition is what it takes to get things done, so be it. The stakes are too high to go silent now. In Congress, I’ll keep beating this drum as a fighter for meaningful solutions to support what Massachusetts needs. To the people of the Fourth District, particularly those in the southern end where I launched my campaign and have spent much of my time in this race, the proposals for minor league investments coming out of the corner office feel like too little, too late.

Ask someone who is stuck on the Pike for hours every day if we can afford to wait to truly fix our transportation problems. Ask someone who has been told more times than they can count that South Coast Rail is really coming to their region and will transform the local economy if we can afford to wait to truly fix our transportation problems. Ask a Green Line rider who never knows if their commute into Boston will take 30 minutes or 75 if we can afford to wait. Or ask the worker in Taunton, Attleboro, or Fall River who relies on underfunded Regional Transit Authorities buses to get to work. Wherever you live in the Fourth District, however you get around, the answer is clear: we can’t afford to wait. Now’s the time for big, bold solutions on transportation.

Here’s the good news: the solutions to our problems exist. They’ve been implemented successfully all around the world, and they’ve been studied extensively here at home. We don’t need any more reports or blue ribbon commissions. We need to take the knowledge we’ve already got and put it to work. How do I know? Because I’ve been on the ground for years, partnering with experts from groups like Transportation for Massachusetts, TransitMatters, and LivableStreets Alliance, learning about best practices, and thinking through how we fix our broken system.

A few examples:

In 2018, I travelled to Mexico City with business leaders from across Greater Boston, and experienced one solution with the potential to revolutionize our transportation system — bus rapid transit. Mexico City’s system, Metrobús, launched in 2005, starting with one line, and has now grown to seven. Buses have their own lanes, collect fairs off-board, and offer frequent service. It has transformed the traffic and transportation system in the city, and it is something that Massachusetts officials are moving toward, and should seriously consider on a large scale.

Riding the Metrobús in Mexico City

In 2018 I was asked to join the statewide Rail Vision Advisory Committee, studying our Commuter Rail service and helping develop recommendations for the Department of Transportation and MBTA leadership about how we can reform the system to improve mobility and economic competitiveness (note: I left the Committee in the fall of 2019 to run for Congress, shortly before its final report was released). The recommendations included calls for complete electrification of the fleet and the immediate and full implementation of South Coast Rail.

These are just the start of investments that we must make and that I’ve fought for at the highest levels. In December of 2018, I wrote about just how big those investments should be in Commonwealth Magazine with Senator Joseph Boncore, the powerful co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

“Significant new revenue, raised in a way that does not disproportionately burden the least fortunate among us, is necessary to support the statewide system we have, and to invest in expanded service,” we wrote — noting that emerging proposals like the Transportation Climate Initiative provide leaders at the state and regional levels with the opportunity to make progress both on our transportation needs and our climate goals.

In 2015 I read a Harvard study that was clear about the connection between transportation and economic inequality. They found that the longer someone’s commute time, the harder it would be for them to escape poverty — and that this connection played a bigger role than other crucial factors like local crime rates, test scores, or parent relationships. That finding has stuck with me, and frankly has contributed to my great frustration around this issue. If we want to tackle economic inequality and social mobility, we have a moral obligation to solve our transportation crisis.

In this campaign, we’re committed to building a fair economy for everyone in the Fourth District. That means big, meaningful, progressive change to our transportation system. There is too much at stake to slap a band-aid on our gaping wound, and then pat ourselves on the back for momentarily stopping the bleeding. Fueled by my frustration, this is going to be my daily work in Congress.

I’m no stranger to the frontlines of the fight for bold and equitable transportation solutions, and I’m determined to take this fight to Congress, to give the people of the Fourth District a transportation system that will serve to lift people up, not hold them back.

Jesse Mermell

Written by

Candidate for Congress in #MA04. @AllianceBL , @PPAdvocacyMA & @DevalPatrick alum. Forever dog mom and Judy Garland fangirl. She/her/hers.

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