Editor’s Note: Updated with additional quotes.
FRAMINGHAM – The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority received a $400,000 grant to expand its service to Sundays and to the Framingham-Natick Golden Triangle.
The grant, announced by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) was part of $3.5 million in grants awarded to Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) across the Commonwealth that will be used to implement best practices and innovative services to benefit customers, announced the Baker-Polito Administration.
“Over $10 million in funding has been awarded to support Regional Transit Authorities in their continued efforts to increase ridership, develop innovative and sustainable service models and practices, and create accessible and reliable transportation connections across the Commonwealth,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “The funding helps RTAs meet their identified goals of improving customer service, develop pilot programs and micro transit opportunities to further extend service locations, and to provide more efficient transportation options that are specific to each regional area.”
“It’s important that our public transportation systems are equipped to serve residents at a variety of times, not just during the standard workweek,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority is one of the most deserving transportation systems in the Commonwealth, and support from MassDOT will allow it to remain flexible at a time where our routines are in flux. Expanding MWRTA services to Sundays is great news, and I hope this is just beginning in expanding more weekend services in the future. ”
“The services that are offered by Regional Transit Authorities are a key part of the Commonwealth’s transportation network, and help facilitate economic development opportunities and increase travel options within communities statewide,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are pleased to provide the tools and resources that can be used by RTAs to build upon their current service models and identify areas in which innovative practices can be developed and shared to ensure that all residents have access to safe and reliable transportation.”
The $400,000 grant for the MWRTA’s CatchConnect Service means an expansion to the Framingham Golden Triangle, an area in Natick and Framingham that consists of the Natick Mall, Walmart, Shoppers World, Sherwood Plaza, multi-unit housing communities and large office developments on Sundays.
“After years of hard work by the legislative delegation, including many of our predecessors, I am thrilled that the MWRTA will be able to fund an expansion into Sunday service to one of the biggest areas of employment in the Metrowest region,” said State Rep. Maria Robinson.
Service should begin at the start at the fiscal year on July 1, 2021, said MWRTA Executive Director Ed Carr.
In August of 2020, after the MWRTA received a grant to study Sunday service expansion, Carr told SOURCE “many MetroWest residents dependent on the MWRTA as they are either without a vehicle or have a disability and can not try a vehicle. He said it is important to provide them with the routes they need, and Sunday is one of them.”
“So many workers and customers rely on the MWRTA to get to work or obtain essentials, and now they will be able to access public transit to get to the Golden Triangle throughout the weekend. We have heard from many mall and Shoppers World employees that this has been a huge barrier for them in the past, so we applaud and eagerly await this expansion of service,” said Rep. Robinson.
MetroWest Regional Transit Authority was formed in 2006 by the state legislature to help serve the public transportation needs of the 32-town corridor known as the I-495/MetroWest corridor.
MWRTA is responsible for fixed bus routes and para-transit routes, which mimic the normal bus routes, but provide a smaller bus with lift capability for the disabled and physically challenged individual. Para-transit transportation is a shared ride, origin to destination service required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The MWRTA averages about 36,000 riders per month, pre-COVID.
MWRTA is governed by an advisory board of representatives from the communities it serves with one representative from the disabled community.
“I hope we can get the (Sunday) ridership to booster the claim to get money to keep coming in future years,” said Carr.
The Regional Transit Authority funding recipients have been selected based upon factors such as whether projects will increase ridership, demonstrate innovation, serve a priority population, be financially sustainable, and provide cost savings or operational efficiencies.
Applicants were also requested to have complete business plans and present measurable milestones.
“We are pleased to announce $3.5 million in grant awards to support RTA’s services today,” said Acting Transportation Secretary and CEO Jamey Tesler. “This funding will help provide various transit benefits to communities across the Commonwealth including projects focused on Commuter Rail Fare Initiatives, Bus service expansions, pilot programs and enhanced customer experience.”
The awards mark the third round of grants provided by the Baker-Polito Administration for the RTAs to develop innovative services.
A total of $7.5 million in RTA grants were previously awarded as follows: $4 million in FY19 and $3.5 million in FY20.
Also, the FY21 Discretionary Grant funding for RTAs is in addition to the $90.5 million in operating funding allocated in the FY21 State Budget signed by Governor Baker. There is also an additional $27.8 million in capital funding from MassDOT.
All project proposals were selected on a competitive basis and grant recipients will now be required to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with MassDOT to address the project goals.