People Still Want a Ticket to Ride

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Having lived most of my life without using a smartphone, I’m sometimes surprised at how quickly they have integrated themselves into our daily lives--from groceries to movies and even transportation. On the campaign trail, it’s not unheard of for me to begin my day in Somerville, go to a meeting in Cambridge, attend an event in Boston and then have to be in Malden later in the night. It’s a lot of distance to cover, and when I’m short on time the T just can’t cut it. Lyft has made my life much simpler, and I have to admit it’s pretty nice to be able to call a car right to my door then have it drop me off at my next location with a few taps of my finger; and according to researchers at the University of California, Davis, I’m not alone.

In major cities, 21% of adults frequently use ridesharing apps, and in the Greater Boston Area an estimated 42% of riders have opted to use them instead of public transportation. These apps may have made our individual lives a little bit easier, but on a larger scale they’re beginning to pose a problem for our public transit systems, environment and major cities. Ridesharing apps are adding more cars on the road everyday, with many driving nonstop for hours as they look for more riders.

Commute times are swelling and researchers also say that public transit has lost about 6% of its consumer base to ridesharing apps. Public transit is the key to a prosperous state, and without proper investment and expansion in the services they offer,  people will rely more heavily on private ridesharing apps rather than buses or trains. I am not against ridesharing apps, but I don’t think they should overtake the role public transit has in our society.

On one level, placing responsibility of our transit infrastructure squarely in the hands of private corporations, who work in their own interest not the public’s, is a dangerous deal. Without proper public transit options to compete with ridesharing apps, consumers will be at the whim of corporations for how much it will cost to get to and from work. Public transportation is also about more than getting someone to work on time, it’s about making sure people can access every part of the state regardless of where they live or work. Connecting our communities together will not just grow our economy, but also make sure that low income communities that are slowly being pushed out of their homes in rapidly developing areas can still make their way to their jobs or schools. For all of the talk, I just don’t buy the argument that Uber will be able to work with municipalities and offer a better alternative to public transit. Privatization isn’t the answer, investment and expansion in better and much needed infrastructure is.

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How about this: increase investment in modern trains that run on clean energy produced in-state, and can get you from Boston to Worcester in half an hour? How about actually connecting North and South Stations together so commuters can get from Lowell to Rhode Island with only one connection rather than having to navigate the whole city? How about providing the RTA’s with more money so they can run more frequently and actually give people in the Pioneer Valley and Berkshires a real rail system? On a smaller scale, what if we had a commission assembled to reassess bus routes and alter them based on demographic changes in neighborhoods?

This isn’t science fiction, it’s good governance. I’ve traveled to other countries with high speed rails who are shocked there isn’t something comparable in a state as forward thinking as Massachusetts.

We have the ability to have a 21st century form of public transportation in this state, and it doesn’t require giving up and handing the reins over to ridesharing apps. Ridesharing apps will always have a role to play in our transportation economy, but they are not equipped to do the things a proper public transit system can do.