As the Watertown TMA moves towards reality, the board of directors must make some key decisions, including whether it will be managed by a devoted executive director of a team from a consulting firm.
Consultant Allison Simmons of Ease Connect told the Town Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation that she does not strongly favor either option for management of the Watertown TMA (Transportation Management Association). She hopes that the official launch of the Watertown TMA will be in July.
She anticipates that slightly more than half the $158,000 budget will go toward salaries.
The pros of a full-time executive director include that the person would be dedicated to the Watertown TMA, however the person would have to do everything. With a consulting firm, Watertown would have three experienced staff members working about 30 hours in total for the TMA. They could be at more than one event at the same time.
The budget Simmons created for an executive director is about $140,000, including salary, benefits, services and expenses. The one consulting firm that applied has an estimate of $123,000, but does not include some services that Simmons included in her budget which would cost about $12,000. With the additional items the costs are very close, she said.
Out of the 15 TMAs in Massachusetts, only four are run by a consulting firm. However, the consulting firm running those ones – TransAction Associates – is the one that sent in a proposal to the Watertown TMA. She said she believes more would go with a consulting firm but few are equipped to run one.
Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he favors going with a consulting firm.
“My experience is there is a real tendency towards ‘We are unique. We need to invent our own system,’ In my experience, that is a real problem in government,” Piccirilli said. “Unless we steal someone from another TMA, there will be a steep learning curve. And we have all our eggs in one basket. If something happens to the person, there is not backup.”
Councilor Aaron Dushku said he worries that the consultants would have a variety of other projects to work on besides the Watertown TMA.
“They would not really be dedicated to the Watertown TMA,” Dushku said. “We would not get the same level of enthusiasm that an employee has.”
Piccirilli said he wants to make sure the TMA is successful the first time, and worries about the someone new getting off to a smooth start. An option would be to help an executive director get their bearings by hiring a experienced consultant to get the TMA up and running.
The decision for which type of management to go with rests with the board of directors. The board meets on May 18, and will elect a president, secretary and secretary, Simmons said.
She hopes the board includes the three types of members of the TMA – properties that are required by their permit to be part of the TMA, those not required but who want to join, and a representative for the Town of Watertown.
When the management is brought on board, the board and the manager will discuss how to run the shuttle that the Town Council has pushed for. The first route is likely to run down Arsenal Street, serving the major developments on that corridor, and linking to the Harvard Square Red Line Station. Details that must be worked out include how many stops.
“If we stop at every corner to pick up the public, business owners will say no way,” Simmons said. She added, however, that Athenahealth, the Linx office building and the Residence Inn all have shuttles running, or planned to run, and they are all in the same area of Arsenal Street.
Resident and Watertown Public Transportation Task Force member Joe Levendusky said he wants to make sure that the public will have access to the shuttle.
Steve Magoon, the director of Economic Development and Planning, said the public will be able to ride the shuttle, but added it has not yet been decided if they will have to pay a fare.
The Town’s share of the startup cost of the Watertown TMA will be about $6,000, Magoon said. When the shuttle begins, that will increase, as will the amount paid by the property owners.
More routes could be added, including ones that do not serve the two major corridors in town – Arsenal Street and Pleasant Street. If they don’t have a lot of big developments, but rather focus on residential areas, the town would have to cover more of the cost, Piccirilli said.
The City of Newton also has expressed interest in linking to the system. They would likely have it serve the area near the Charles River Mill District, which includes Pleasant Street in Watertown, the area of Newton across the river, and part of Waltham. Newton officials are interested in running it to Newtonville, Magoon said.