Blog: Left out in the cold

Last week, right after the governor and MassDOT released their vision for the future of transportation, Father Time and Mother Nature made the problems facing our underfunded transportation system very real for commuters.

An old wire in the Arlington T station started to smolder. It caused the entire Green Line to shut down at the height of rush hour. Thousands of people had to step out into the bitter cold and take shuttle buses to their destination. A few days later, the bitter cold caused some of the aging commuter trains and subways to fail, once again causing commuters to be delayed.

When disruptions in rush hour commutes happen in major cities like Boston, the public feels the impact of an underfunded and aging transit system first hand while the business community measures lost productivity. The media splashes pictures of freezing commuters forced to stand in the bitter cold.

It is important for people to see this as we work to increase funding for transportation, but seeing people out in the cold made me think on an equally important story that did not make the news. It’s Ana’s story.

I met Ana in Springfield recently and she told me how an underfunded transit system affects her life. She’s in her mid-sixties, moved to the Springfield area Puerto Rico, and a person who relies completely on public transit. She uses Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses to go shopping, to the doctor, to church, to visit friends. On January 2nd, which is one of the coldest days we’ve had so far, she had to wait 40 minutes in the bitter cold for a bus to take her to a doctor’s appointment. This was not in a rural place where one would expect an hour between buses, it was the city of Springfield.

People like Ana who rely on the regional bus systems across the state face “delays” in their commute every day. Some need to get to jobs, others to community colleges, but with issues like hour waits between buses and no service after 6PM and on weekends, these regional bus systems are not serving the people who need them. Why? Because like the rest of our transportation system these regional transit authorities need more funding to provide people with access to jobs, school, and the daily needs of their lives.

Both crowds of commuters in Boston standing on the streets and Ana standing alone for an hour on the other side of the state tell us that it’s time to fund our public transit systems so they can work for the public again.