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Transportation grants give suburban commuters a boost

The Brockton Area Transit Authority runs a bus between Brockton Hospital and Rockland center. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Employees at businesses in Devens will soon be able to ride shuttle buses between the Ayer and Shirley train stations and their workplaces. Somerville will have more bike-share stations. And Brockton residents will be able to commute by bus to jobs in a Rockland industrial park.

As transportation planners seek long-term solutions to the endless traffic snarls plaguing area roads, newly awarded state funds are fueling local efforts to relieve some of the misery for motorists.

The $4.2 million in one-time Workforce Transportation grants are aimed at supporting innovative attempts to lure commuters out of their single-occupancy cars, including shuttle services connecting public transit stations to workplaces or homes, and bike-sharing programs.


Recipients of the grants must contribute a 20 percent match, and if their initiatives succeed, they will need to find funding to continue them.

Eric Bourassa, transportation director for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said the state support is timely as many communities are looking to help alleviate commuter headaches.

“Often commuters live or work a mile from public transit so it’s hard to get to. If you can provide these connections on either end of the commuting trip it could bridge the gap that keeps people from taking public transit,” he said.

Shuttle services typically charge per-ride fees, but some are free for employees of participating companies

“We talk to so many companies along Route 128 and I-495 trying to recruit younger workers who want to live in Cambridge or Somerville. So having these transit connections is very attractive,” Bourassa said.

Commuters said such services offer other benefits.

Since 2017, Cara Brooks has been riding a weekday shuttle bus from Alewife Station to iRobot in Bedford, where the Boston resident works as a STEM program coordinator.

“I take the shuttle out of convenience, to avoid driving in rush hour traffic and to help do my part in reducing the carbon footprint,” Brooks said in an e-mail. “It’s also nice having a window of time in between the office and home to decompress and reflect. The fact that the shuttle follows a schedule has also allowed me to manage my time more effectively and be more productive.”


“We congratulate the communities and agencies who proposed innovations that will improve daily commutes,” Josh Ostroff, partnerships director for the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said by e-mail.

He added, though, “These grants will make a small dent in the status quo. What residents really need is bolder action from the Administration and the Legislature that will inject dedicated new funding for overdue transportation investments, and advance proven policies that have been effective at fighting congestion in other regions of the country."

The state grants include $130,000 awarded to the Middlesex 3 Coalition, whose Transportation Management Association has operated the Bedford-Billerica shuttle since 2014. Stephanie Cronin, executive director of the coalition consisting of about 120 businesses around Route 3 north of Boston, said the money will be used to add another bus to the service, which despite an expansion in 2017 is now at capacity.

The coalition also will receive $275,000 to extend a pilot bus shuttle that takes Lowell area residents to restaurant jobs in Burlington. Theshuttle also will now stop at a broader range of hospitality businesses.

“There’s no silver bullet to solving our traffic congestion,” said Cronin. “You need to do a hundred different things to make a dent in the problem.”


For the past year, the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority has been running shuttle bus service between the Fitchburg-Leominster area and Devens. Now with a $262,100 grant, the authority will add a shuttle linking Devens with the Ayer and Shirley train stations.

“We would like to increase our shuttle ridership in Devens, which is a large employment area,” said Bruno Fisher, deputy administrator of the authority, which also shuttles commuters between the Littleton train station and both Technology Park in Westford and IBM in Littleton.

The Brockton Area Transit Authority, which runs a bus between Brockton Hospital and Rockland center, was awarded $200,000 to deploy a second bus and extend the route to include stops in downtown Brockton and Rockland’s Air Station Industrial Park, enabling more Brockton residents to commute to jobs in Rockland, according to authority administrator Michael Lambert.

A $340,000 grant to Chelsea will enable the city, Arlington, Newton, and Watertown to join Bluebikes, the Metropolitan Boston bike-sharing network. Revere also plans to join with its own funds. The five communities were among 15 that participated in a pilot dockless bike-sharing network recently terminated when its operator, Lime, withdrew from the program.

Bluebikes has more than 260 dock stations in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett, and Somerville. The addition of the new communities — contingent on their agreeing to contracts with the system’s operator, Lyft ― would expand the network to 10 municipalities.


“We are extremely excited. There is a lot of interest in all areas of our community in bike sharing.,” said Alexander Train, Chelsea’s assistant director of planning and development, noting that 30 percent of Chelsea residents do not own cars.

Somerville received a separate $208,734 award to expand its Bluebikes program by installing four new 19-dock bike-share stations and increasing the number of docks from 15 to 19 at six existing stations. While the expansion is geared to encouraging city workers to use Bluebikes, all bikes are available to the general public.

Newton, meanwhile, received a separate $250,000 grant to pilot a shuttle service between the Wells Avenue business district and the MBTA Needham Heights commuter rail station, and two local Green Line stations.

“We hope that the service will allow many of the 7,000 employees who live in proximity to these MBTA lines and work or go to school in the Wells Avenue area will take advantage of this option for using public transportation to commute,” Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a statement.

With a $174,889 grant, the Cape Ann Transportation Authority plans to pilot a weekday van shuttle between the Gloucester commuter rail station and the Blackburn Industrial Park, Addison Gilbert Hospital, and the downtown waterfront.

“There’s an obvious need for a shuttle,” Felicia Webb, the authority’s executive director, said, noting that commuting by train is not a real option for employees at Blackburn since the station and park are about 2 miles apart and divided by Route 128. The authority also may run a shuttle between the West Gloucester train station and Cape Ann Industrial Park.


In other grants:

— The 128 Business Council was awarded $77,225 to expand an existing shuttle bus service taking commuters from Alewife Station to businesses in Lexington’s Hartwell Avenue area and across the line in Bedford, with a reverse leg that stops in Lexington Center. The expansion will provide more frequent service, especially for the Hartwell Avenue leg.

— The Alewife Transportation Management Association will receive $30,676 for an incentive program in which employees from its member businesses earn gift cards for reducing solo driving in their commutes and instead use car pooling, public transit, or bicycling.

— The Neponset Valley Transportation Management Association is getting $209,101 to run two shuttle buses between businesses in the Royall Street commercial area in Canton and four public transit hubs: the Route 128 MBTA commuter rail station in Westwood, and three Red Line stops in Quincy and Boston.

— The Watertown Transportation Management Association was awarded $244,800 to initiate regular bus service on Pleasant Street, with one bus to take residents to Watertown Square and a second to Harvard Square.

— The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority, which last June initiated a pilot Route 20 shuttle bus from Marlborough to the MBTA Riverside station in Newton, was awarded $240,000 to explore with businesses potential other shuttle runs in MetroWest and then to implement any it decides to offer.

— CrossTown Connect Transportation Management Association was awarded $160,860 to initiate an all-day bus shuttle between Concord’s two train stations and commercial areas in West Concord, near Hanscom Air Base, and the downtown.

— The Greater Attleboro-Taunton Regional Transit Authority will receive $215,488 to continue and expand the hours of a new on-demand shuttle van service that transports passengers to workplaces and other requested locations in Mansfield, part of Plainville, and the area surrounding Patriot Place and the new commuter rail station in Foxborough.

— The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission was awarded $33,000 to study the potential formation of a Transportation Management Association that could offer shuttle van service in the region of Route 9 that includes Shrewsbury, Westborough, and Worcester.

— Salem will earn $250,000 to pilot a public ride-share service in which a van will pick up and drop off residents and visitors at destinations within the city. The service will be strictly on-demand, with riders arranging pick-ups through apps or phone calls.

“We are always trying to provide residents and visitors with other transportation options that do not require them to be in a single-occupancy vehicle,” said David Kucharsky, Salem’s director of traffic and parking. “We are hoping this affords Salem residents an opportunity to live either a car-free or ‘car-light’ lifestyle.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.