Guest Blog: we need bold vision

May 28, 2015

We are pleased to share the testimony of John MacDougall at the Joint Transportation Committee on May 27.  John serves on the Transportation Working Group of 350 Massachusetts, a coalition member since 2014.


My name is John MacDougall.  I live in Cambridge.  I am on the Transportation Working Group of 350 Massachusetts (350MA), and I am also a member of Alternatives for Community & Environment, and of Livable Streets Alliance.

We at 350MA advocate for truly effective action on climate change.  We are also very concerned about social justice.

My 350MA colleague Jack Spence testified to your committee on May 11.  My focus tonight will be rather different from his.  However I would like to underscore Jack’s crucial point, that in Massachusetts, the transportation sector is the only one that has increased its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 1990 and 2012.  Delay in reducing transportation GHG is very costly, and it adds to the GHG-cutting burden we place on other sectors like electricity generation.

In the transportation sector, single-person cars are far the worst mode of travel when it comes to GHG emissions.  For example, a report by the federal Dept. of Transportation compares a single-occupant vehicle (SOV) to other modes.  An SOV’s emissions are 9 times those of a fully-loaded heavy-rail train (like the Red Line); nearly 7 times those of a light-rail train (like the Green Line); and over 5 times those of a bus.

Reducing GHG is an important goal of GreenDOT, an initiative to which the state is committed, whereby the number of trips by transit, cycling and walking will be tripled by 2030.

Let’s also not forget the many vitally important non-climate benefits of transit, cycling and walking.  These include better public health and safety, social equity, and job creation.

So what should we do?

First, we need both reform and revenue in our transportation policy.  We in 350MA support many of the reform provisions of the bill proposed by the governor.  The MBTA must be more accountable, transparent and customer-focused. 

However, we must simultaneously find new revenues for the whole of the state’s transportation system.  Revenues are needed both to address the huge backlog of repairs and maintenance—and let’s not forget the hundreds of defective bridges across the Commonwealth—and also for major expansions of transit, bike and pedestrian facilities that are needed for meeting GreenDOT goals.

Second, for the short-term, the cap on fare increases by the MBTA must be preserved.  This is a crucial social-equity issue.  We also strongly oppose the provision in the governor’s bill that essentially cuts the whole of the state’s transportation budget by about $100 million a year for 5 years.

Third, good transportation should be seen as an essential public good. It is on a par with things like police and fire protection, and public education.  In view of the multiple benefits provided by sustainable transportation, it absolutely must be subsidized by state and local governments.

Fourth, for the longer term, we all need bold vision.  We should start, immediately, conversations about major increases in taxes and/or fees, with the revenue dedicated to sustainable transportation. Opinion polls show that the public will support these tax and fee hikes if they are clearly linked to transportation improvements. 

We in 350MA strongly endorse the bills providing for a carbon fee and dividend.  This will significantly raise the cost of GHG emissions, and make those emissions much more visible to us all.

Any tax or fee increase should cover several years—this will go far to ensuring a predictable future, for both travellers and businesses.

In the transportation sector, there are several tax and fee increases that should be considered.  We are not endorsing any specific proposal, but among others, the following deserve serious examination:

  • major increases in the gas tax;
  • imposing tolls on all interstate highways in Massachusetts;
  • a vehicle-miles-travelled fee.

Thank you for your consideration.


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