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Worcester’s Public Transportation Critical to Economic Growth

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


(Photo: Adam E. Moreira, Wikimedia Commons)

Improved transportation to and from Worcester is becoming a reality regardless of delayed express commuter trains along the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA) Framingham/Worcester line.

And better connectivity is key for further economic growth and development.

"It's critical to a growing economy," said Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Tim Murray.

New MBTA lines delayed until “end of next month”

While new MBTA train service between Worcester and Boston had been planned to start this week (the changes were previously set to go into effect earlier, on Jan. 13) those extra trains are now promised for the end of February.

Commuters had been expecting three new weekday trains to Boston, and four more to Worcester — totaling 40 daily trips.

“Due to ongoing work at (Boston's) Yawkey Station, the enhanced schedule will not be implemented this month. The new schedule cannot go into effect until the station platforms can fully accommodate both inbound and outbound trains simultaneously,” said MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo, apologizing for the delayed implementation and saying the agency would look forward to bringing improved service by the end of February.

“In addition, the MBTA is taking under consideration some schedule changes suggested by customers and local officials,” Pesaturo added.

Commuters and local elected officials in Natick and Wesley had protested scheduling plans that included some express lines that would bypass intermediate stops.

Queried about those concerns, “a primary goal is (still) to offer so-called 'express' train trips that do not have to make a stop at every station between Worcester and Boston,” Pesaturo said this week.

Riders awaiting new schedule

One local resident, John R. Troy, said he had commuted from Worcester every day on the Framingham/Worcester line for more than eight years. “Train service has gotten better over the last few years, but it can improve,” he said.

Troy said recent improvements included more outbound options for people leaving midday. “More lines would be better, although it's hard to get more lines and still have trains that make all the stops, so there has to be some give and take.”

“I was looking forward to the new commute schedule, with the one train that would leave Worcester and skip Framingham/Natick so it could go faster. However, I am disturbed now to hear that Framingham and Natick passengers are complaining to the MBTA and congressmen about this proposed schedule.”

Troy said shaving 15 minutes off today's express commute — making Worcester to Boston a 75-minute affair — would make a big difference. “I hope the MBTA takes this into account.”

'Great' for Worcester

“I don't think most people use the train to get to the Hanover Theatre ... although it's great to have more trains,” said Troy Siebels, executive director of that venue and board chair of the Worcester Cultural Coalition and Destination Worcester.

“There's no question that it's a great thing for Worcester,” Siebels said, adding the real benefit of better connectivity would be “revitalizing” the city. “It allows more people to live in Worcester, and commute to Boston and points in between.” Better travel options allow more people to settle in the city, improve its downtown, and “change the perception of Worcester.”

In addition to commuter rail improvements, the Worcester Regional Airport's recent addition of JetBlue has created new lines of travel including daily service to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Better connectivity on wheels and by air

A report released by the Massachusetts Port Authority after JetBlue landed put total economic output resulting from new visitors at approximately $172 million over the next decade. The airport's director, Andrew Davis, said in a release the report confirmed the local economic impact of new passenger service.

The report estimated the airport could potentially serve 500,000 passengers by 2023.

“Increasing travel options makes property in Worcester more valuable and increases the tax base,” said GoLocal MINDSETTER Bill Randell, who said the expanded options created new advertising markets for the city, increasing commerce and tourism.

“The movement of people, goods, materials, and products are a time-proven economic development catalyst,” according to Murray.

All modes important

According to the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, improvements to all modes of public transportation pay the greatest dividends.

“Also in Worcester, I know that the (Worcester Regional Transit Authority) is working to expand service (to outlying communities) and there is a lot of need there,” said Kirstie Pecci, a staff attorney at MASSPIRG who works on transportation issues.

“Investing in RTAs is something you really get a lot of bang for your buck,” Pecci said, with bus service more flexible and not as expensive to implement as rail or subway.

Pecci also stressed the importance of connecting between modes of transportation, “so there's not a car needed at the end of the line.”

“New technologies and better planning as a result of those technologies should allow the regional transit authorities to provide better service in Worcester County. Flex routes, UPASS programs and greater connectivity between public transit modes are all much more achievable than they were even five years ago.

“That being said, while the new transportation funding legislated in the Transportation Finance Act of 2013 was a great first step, more funding will be needed to establish a safe, modern and equitable system in the 21st century,” Pecci contends.

Technology and new transportation hub boost bus service

“We're not just Worcester anymore,” said WRTA Administrator Stephen O'Neil, tallying 36 additional surrounding communities with local bus service. With ridership steadily rising since 2007 and more than 1,300 stops inside the city today, “now we're trying to work on growing our system.”

O'Neil said a comprehensive study beginning this spring would identify new routes and changes that make the most sense. “We'll have a blueprint, if you will.”

After moving into its new Union Station transportation hub — a 14,000-square-foot facility built for $18 million — last June, the WRTA is better positioned than ever.

“(We're) next door to the MBTA station, Peter Pan, Greyhound, taxis — anything with wheels. It's one-stop shopping.”

The administrator said new technology allowed the WRTA to be smarter in adjusting routes, by monitoring ridership down to each particular stop.


Related Slideshow: Massachusetts Emergency Care Report Card

The American College of Emergency Physicians released America's Emergency Care Environment report for 2014 in January, issuing report cards for each state in the U.S. Massachusetts ranked second overall - see the Bay State's report card grades and highlights in the slides below.

Prev Next

Access to Emergency Care Grades

2014 Grade: B

2014 National Rank: 4

2009 Grade: B

2009 National Rank: 3

Prev Next

Access to Emergency Care Highlights

* Board-certified emergency physicians per 100,000 population: 14.2

* Emergency physicians per 100,000 population: 19.7

* Neurosurgeons per 100,000 population: 2.6

* Orthopedists and hand surgeon specialists per 100,000 population: 12.7

* Plastic surgeons per 100,000 population: 3.3

Prev Next

Quality + Patient Safety Environment Grades

2014 Grade: B+

2014 National Rank: 5

2009 Grade: A

2009 National Rank: 6

Prev Next

Quality + Safety Environment Highlights

* Funding for quality improvement within the EMS system: No

* Funded state EMS medical director: Yes

* Emergency medicine residents per 1 million population: 33.1

* Adverse event reporting required: Yes

* Percent of counties with E-911 capability: 100%

Prev Next

Medical Liability Grades

2014 Grade: D-

2014 National Rank: 40

2009 Grade: D

2009 National Rank: 33

Prev Next

Medical Liability Highlights

* Lawyers per 100,000 population: 24.5

* Lawyers per physician: 0.5

* Lawyers per emergency physician: 12.4

* Malpractice award payments per 100,000 population: 1.4

* Average malpractice award payments: $519,991

Prev Next

Public Health + Injury Prevention Grades

2014 Grade: A

2014 National Rank: 1

2009 Grade: A

2009 National Rank: 1

Prev Next

Public Health + Injury Prevention Highlights

* Traffic fatalities per 100,000 population: 3.8

* Bicyclist fatalities per 100,000 population: 1.9

* Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population: 2.1

* Percent of traffic fatalities alcohol related: 39%

* Front occupant restraint use: 73.2%

Prev Next

Disaster Preparedness Grades

2014 Grade: C

2014 National Rank: 20

2009 Grade: B

2009 National Rank: 19

Prev Next

Disaster Preparedness Highlights

* Per capita federal disaster preparedness funds: $6.54

* ESF-8 plan shared with all EMS and essential hospital personnel: Yes

* Emergency physician input into the state planning process: Yes

* Drills, exercises conducted with hospital personnel, equipment, facilities per hospital: 0.2

* Public health and emergency physician input during ESF-8 response: Yes


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