After years of pushing for a shuttle as an addition to the public transportation options in Watertown, Town Councilors were disappointed to hear that for the second time the roll out of the shuttle buses would be delayed, and that there was a suggestion to do away with the shuttle.
On Tuesday, the Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation report from its Jan. 12 meeting was presented to the Town Council, including word that the shuttles would not start in the spring, as hoped, but in the fall of 2017 – at the earliest. This comes after it was announced in September that the start of the shuttle would be delayed from the Fall of 2016 to the spring of 2017.
The effort to create a Watertown Transportation Management Association (TMA) is being spearheaded by the 128 Business Council, which has been hired as a consultant. Some progress has been made, said Councilor Aaron Dushku, chair of the Transportation Committee.
“The first meeting of some of the seven developers whose permits include a requirement to participate and fund a TMA and shuttle services, as well as long standing businesses and residential developments took place Nov. 17,” Dushku said. “And it and included preliminary discussions of membership, duties, and a potential shuttle service.”
The groups have tentatively committed to $30,000 in funding for the TMA, but representatives from the 128 Business Council estimate the effort it started will take around $150,000. The groups have also been working on a draft Memorandum of Agreement about what they would contribute to a TMA, Dushku said.
Establishment of the TMA could take place within the next three to six months, Dushku said, but the shuttle will take longer.
During the presentation by the 128 Business Council in January, the consultants said that Watertown officials should not assume that a shuttle will necessarily be a part of the TMA, which can also include programs such as ride shares, guaranteed ride homes, efforts to encourage using transit or bicycling to work and more.
“A shuttle service should be seen as a separate objective from the creation of a TMA. Watertown should not assume that shuttle service is needed to address the traffic congestion issues facing Watertown,” the consultants said, according to the report.
Councilor Susan Falkoff said this report worried her.
“At previous meetings they talked about shuttles and how many shuttles we should have, now it’s vanished,” Falkoff said.
Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said the message of the consultants presentation is maybe the town needs to adjust its expectations, and be cautious.
“(128 Business Council Executive Director)Monica Tibbits-Nutt and Allison Simmons (of Ease Consult) wanted to convey we have one shot, let’s get it right,” Magoon said.
Councilor Tony Palomba, who sits on the Transportation Committee, said he was also disappointed at the Transportation meeting, but now he feels more confident.
“We were reassured by Mr. Magoon that shuttle service is a critical part of the TMA, and it will not be forgotten,” Palomba said.
Dushku also said that the Transportation Committee expressed its concern that the shuttle was not a priority of the TMA being designed by the 128 Business Council.
Dushku added that the 128 Business Council has had some turnover, and a former employee who had been working on the Watertown TMA may have made some promises that could not be kept.
“I think they need to take a step back and do some soul searching about what they can provide to us,” Dushku said.
At the next meeting of the Transportation Committee, on March 7 at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall, the consultants have been asked to bring the Memorandum of Agreement, prepare goals, a timeline, and a budget for the establishment of a Watertown TMA, Dushku said.