Tag Archives: transportation

Worcester’s WRTA bus system: designed to fail?

WRTA bus at Worcester City Hall bus stop. What happened to all the free shuttle buses to the WRTA Hub/Union Station? We’ve got ’em – every 20 minutes or so … (photo: R.T.)

By Chris Horton

Don’t get me wrong.  I love public transportation.  I love trains, ships, trolleys. I used to even love planes and busses. But getting around in Worcester without a car really sucks.  And it doesn’t cheer me up when we’re told we have the best transit system in Massachusetts outside Metro Boston.  (Is that true? Really?)

When I need to go somewhere that’s not on my own bus line, a two-ride trip, I can pretty well count on long waits. I can expect missed connections.  Busses scheduled to run every 15 minutes often run in convoys – four busses playing leap-frog, then nearly an hour until the next batch.  This makes planning a trip very hard.  A one-hour appointment at 3 pm will usually take up my whole afternoon.  In rough weather I can expect to end up cold and wet. And I can expect to return home exhausted.  

(That is, if I can get there at all!)

Many people using the busses have needs far more urgent than mine.  I meet riders holding down two or even three jobs to make ends meet, dropping kids off at school or daycare providers, who say it’s a nightmare, as late busses and missed connections lead to firings.  At least I live near a supermarket and pharmacy; every day I see people lugging three or four overstuffed bags of groceries onto the buses and lugging them around town.

Then there’s the places the buses don’t go and the times they don’t run.  Every time the members of the Worcester Unemployment Action Group have discussed what our top issues are, the lack of bus service to where the jobs are is near the top.  Very few buses to outlying areas, virtually no buses to neighboring cities, routes where the first bus of the morning won’t get you to work on time or the last bus of the day get you home, jobs that are out of reach because there’s no Saturday service – these severely limit what job seekers can take, once they’ve joined the ranks of the carless.

Attending the WRTA Board meetings and hearings, looking at the way they make changes, what they pay attention to, it’s clear the bean-counters are in charge, and they are more concerned with perceptions than actually meeting their riders’ needs. This showed in their very expensive third-party rider survey, which was a checked-box machine-scored affair that didn’t uncover what changing routes around will really do to people who have chosen apartments and taken jobs based on the existing routes.

The new impossibly small and crowded $17 million Union Station Bus Hub is a monument to traffic engineering failure, and many riders bemoan the loss of being able to stop off downtown between buses. But it looks good on paper! (Was this part of the City Fathers’ plan to clear the “riff-raff” out of the Commons?)  Their sop to the complainers: a new Downtown Shuttle that only runs every 17 minutes – maybe!  

Soon they’ll be able to throw up their hands and say “Oh look!  We tried it, and it didn’t work!”  Their special trick like the bus the public was demanding that would run the length of Main Street all the way to Lincoln Square.  They put one on last year, running once an hour from Webster Plaza to Linclon Plaza – once an hour only on Saturday – and – Surprise! – it didn’t catch on!

Now there’s talk of fully privatizing our bus system, which is already privately run contracting to a public agency.  Don’t think it could get worse?  Don’t bet on it!

OK, I know, “fixed route” public transport will never get everybody where they want to go when they want to go there.  Rail may be faster than cars when roads are congested, but buses never will be.  But buses can be sociable.  They can be safer and cheaper than driving and better for the environment. At their best they can be low-stress.  Buses can even be so good that people leave their cars behind to use them!

How do I know this?  Every year I spend at least a week in Nova Scotia visiting family.  In recent years I’ve stayed in Halifax and moved around by bus.  The Halifax “Urban Core,” at 297,000 people, is about the same population as Worcester and its neighboring towns. 

There is a dense network of busses – including busses connecting with the very popular cross-harbor ferries.  They run late into the night.  On some trunk routes there are busses every five minutes.  There are ten Bus Hubs, including suburban hubs, several of them twice the size of Worcester’s.  There are hundreds of benches and shelters, and I’ve seen myself how they get shoveled out right away after every snowstorm!  People actually leave their cars behind to ride the busses!

The difference is that Worcester’s busses are treated like welfare for the poor.  How we got here, how we get back to having a quality public transportation system for all, how we pay for it – these are things we should be talking about. Halifax shows it’s possible.  Anything less is unacceptable.

Biking for a better Worcester

By Jonathon Searles

When I first moved to Worcester, I had a car. Everyone had a car. This was what I was taught to do, what was necessary for living. When the time came to register the car again, I found that my insurance had almost doubled, coming from a small town where the term CRIME was almost an abstract concept. Apparently Worcester is considered dangerous and a high liability. I beg to differ. Regardless, I decided to drop the car, find an alternate way to get around. I landed a job in the city, that job was close enough so that i didn’t need a car.

Life was good. Walking was good, the City bus was good, but cost some money, not much, but enough. Eventually a friend of mine got me a bike. A red mountain bike hybrid, it had something like six gears that actually worked. I didn’t care that it had no brand or name on it, the brakes worked. That was important. It shifted well. Mostly, if it gummed up in the gears id just mash them until it worked itself out. Soon i learned that not only was biking fun, it got me where i wanted to be faster and more effectively than any other transportation (in the city). Sometimes i would laugh to myself while passing cars that had cut me off in the rush, only to be locked in traffic, passing them later, and possibly waving. One thing i learned very quickly was: keep your eyes and ears open. A person will develop a sort of ESP when it comes to traffic, but this is not magic, it becomes instinctual.

Biking really helped let off some steam after work. Pushing the envelope, riding recklessly at times, but always paying attention. There is nothing like hopping a curb, surfing a 45 degree slope on two wheels and bombing down a hill to get home. I don’t actually recommend this, you could easily just have a beach cruiser and ride at leisure, very nice, but i liked riding agressively.You get where you want faster, and there is no chance of missing any action.

One of my fondest memories of biking in this fine city is actually crashing! I was trying to get around a woman pushing a shopping cart full of stuff. Someone had mowed over a square hole in the grass on the edge of the sidewalk. you couldn’t tell if it was there or not. FACE PLANT on the grass. Good thing it was grass. Next thing i hear is “OH MY GOD JONNY ARE YOU OK!?!” Turns out she was a friend i hadnt seen in years. it was nice to see her, we talked abit, laughed about it. and I walked (rode) away without a scratch. I’ve had a few other close calls I would rather not talk about right now. Let’s just say I have been really lucky on more than one occassion.

The up-side of biking in the city is: Independence, Self Reliance, and Sustainability. Potentially free, (Earn-a-Bike offers free bikes to those who are willing to work for one)  The sense of self you derive from this is Anarchistic in its truest forn. You are usurping the system by action and example, in a peaceful and independent way. That is a very good feeling. It is liberating to not have to: rely on fuel prices, whoever may or may not get you a ride in a car, when a bus might show up. Waiting on a corner for someone else is never fun for me. I would much rather do it myself. It is also nearly impossible to text or space out behind the wheel, it would only lead to a crash. I have never seen anyone playing a trumpet or shaving on a bike, but i have seen those things being done in cars! Bikers are engaged, alert, and present, by necessity. Biking is fun, good for the environment, creates no waste, it is good for you’re health and physique, gives you independence and empowerment, and sometimes we look really cool doing it

The down-side of this is: It is dangerous. Most drivers seem to perceive pedestrians and cyclists as obstacles, things that need to get out of the way.

My take is simple. Cars are necessary,. But drivers need to have respect for those who choose to walk or bike. Watch the road. Respect people who don’t like GAS, and who are not too lazy to pedal. Some people cant ride a cycle or even a moped, I respect that. Entirely. Everyone needs to get around. Granted.  However, please, drivers, don’t forget, pedestrians are saving your air, you need that stuff.



The WRTA takes the “public” outa public transportation … and a few Worcester development developments

By Rosalie Tirella

A few days ago we checked our INCITY TIMES email to find a plethora of documents – information, phone numbers, petitions, etc from the folks (the soon to be displaced tenants) who are fighting Becker College’s leasing of their big apartment building on Fruit Street. Seems the college was dissuaded from buying the two homes in the Highland Street area so they could fill them with kids and decided things would be more “fruitful” on Fruit Street, a place with more office buildings, apartment buildings and fewer homeowners. People who are gonna fight the kids’ arrival tooth and tong.

My heart goes out to the group of Fruit Street tenants who sent me all the information. Yup. They are, when their leases expire, being thrown out of their very cool apartments that they so dearly love, their homes, so that Becker College kids can live in them, experience city living, courtesy of Becker College, which is leasing the building from the owner/s.

Renters never have the clout homeowners do. They don’t have the bucks. Money trumps good tenants ALWAYS, good folks who want to continue enjoying their apartments/lives.

I often get packages like the one emailed to me from the Fruit Street folks. A last ditch effort, so to speak. Over the dozen years I’ve been putting out ICT, people have come to know my passion for the little guy and gal. They know I worry about gentrification and working folks and families. They know I won’t back away from a fight if I believe in a cause.

But somehow, the Becker kids moving into the building doesn’t freak me out. Would if I lived there. Or my family lived there. But being removed from the situation some, I can be more objective and say: The tenants need to get in touch with our CDCs and begin looking for new digs. WHICH SUCKS. Been there, done that. However, Worcester needs the college kids, the educated future of TOMORROW. We talk about Becker’s cool video gaming program and how it’s attracting kids from all over the region who want to attend the school to get the hip gaming degree. Well, where is the school, is Worcester, going to put them? House them? In Holden?

Truth be told, the Highland Street homes seemed OK, too. If you buy a home next door to a college, this is what you are gonna get: A COLLEGE. A college filled with college kids. And so the TOWN-GOWN dance begins. Conflict is the accurate word.

My heart breaks for the Fruit Street tenants, but their landlord is within his or her legal rights. And Worcester’s colleges need to flourish and keep up with the times. Also, young people are energizing for a city.

The WRTA mess. Only the WRTA could take the public outa public transportation! Depressing!

However, we were happy to see, a few days ago as we drove past City Hall, one of the free shuttle mini buses that WRTA head honcho Steve O’Neil promised WRTA riders. After another public hearing where bus riders said: WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE BUSES? THEY ARE LATE. HOURS LATE. OR THEY DON’T SHOW UP AT ALL! STOP THE CHAOS!

I guess O’Neil felt the people’s pain cuz he did the right thing: got some shuttle buses floating around City Hall to pick up for FREE WRTA riders who were too freaking exhausted to walk all the way down to the new transportation hub to catch their buses home. They can no longer catch them at the logical place, in front of City Hall where all the stores, businesses and coffee shops are. Now they must do their business, make their purchases and take a hike with bags, food, books, etc to the new transportation hub. EXHAUSTING. Which is why O’Neil got the free shuttle buses going. Now people can hop onto these buses – I saw one driving by me as I waited at the stop light – and be DRIVEN to the transportation hub. Here’s hoping there is some frequency to these shuttles. You shouldn’t have to wait 20 minutes for one. You could miss your bus!

God, there are a ton of kinks to work out! Why not have two transportation hubs? The old City Hall one, which actually worked And the new one which looks good but is totally pointless? One that works, one for show.

I nominate Jo Hart for Woo transportation tzar! Or maybe she could take over Steve O’Neil’s job …

Great work, Neighbor to Neighbor!

I have worked with and known the N2N crowd for more than a decade – wonderful ladies (mostly ladies) who work to empower Latino and low-income voters. As we move to celebrate InCity Times’ 12th birthday (our special 12th anniversay issue comes out Friday after next), it is so so cool to be able to run this info from folks who, like us, have been fighting the good fight for Woo’s inner-city folks –  for YEARS! Kudos, N2N!  – R. Tirella
Inadequate regional transit systems take a significant toll on the quality of life of low-income Latinos in our communities
Over the past several months, Neighbor to Neighbor-MA teamed up with Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Planning to conduct door to door surveys, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups to show the effects of transportation in everyday lives. The final report, out this week, shows that inadequate regional transit systems take a significant toll on the quality of life of low-income Latinos in our communities. New data shows just how great that toll is, and provides a plan for how to reduce its effect on the health, employment opportunities, education, stress level, time, and wallets of our neighbors.
Click on the pictures below to read more about how infrequent, expensive, and unreliable transportation impacts daily life in these stories from local and national media. (EVEN IF YOU CAN’T SEE THE PICS, CLICK ON THE BOXES! YOU STILL GET THE INFO! – r. t.)
N2N Worcester leader Terri Cherry
shares her story with
Lynn State Sen. McGee, Chair of the
Joint Committee on Transportation,
talks about the need for
transportation reform.
N2N Springfield leader Ana Sanoguel
The Dukakis Center’s
explains the facts and figures
of the report.
Find more from our members at WBUR, Boston Magazine … . You can read the report here.
This report is an unprecedented collaboration between N2N-MA and the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, with major support from the Barr Foundation and supporters like you.
By combining hard data and personal stories, this report makes an even stronger case for economic justice.
Your support is crucial in this ongoing fight!