Watertown Shuttle Could Start Running in Fall, or May Wait Until Spring

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Watertown’s first shuttle will likely run down Pleasant Street to Watertown Square and could start as soon as this fall, but may have to wait until the nice weather arrives in 2018.

On Wednesday night, members of the Town Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation were eager to find out when they could see Watertown’s first shuttle.

The Watertown Transportation Management Association (TMA) will run the shuttle, and if all goes right the first shuttles could start rolling this fall, said Allison Simmons, a consultant from Ease Consult hired by the Town to form the TMA. However, it may have to wait until spring.

To get the shuttle started this fall, Simmons said, the Watertown TMA board would have to approve the shuttle pilot at its August meeting and get members to agree to fund it soon after.

“If we can get to an agreement quickly, potentially yes, I can see doing a fall pilot,” Simmons said.

She recommended against starting a pilot during bad weather.

“If all the paperwork was in place January 1, I would recommend waiting until spring,” Simmons said.

Shuttles along Arsenal Street to the Harvard Square Red Line Station and one along Pleasant Street to Watertown Square have been discussed, but the pilot would focus on one.

“We have had good response along Pleasant Street. Groups have called us interested in being part of (the shuttle),” Simmons said. “Ultimately, Pleasant Street to Watertown Square is (likely) the one we would look at for the pilot.”

Some of the large residential projects on Pleasant Street and other developments have been interested in being part of the project. The City of Newton has also expressed strong interest in extending the shuttle in to the part of Newton across the river from Pleasant Street.

A three month pilot has been planned, Simmons said, and if it is successful the members served by the shuttle will pay a proportional share of the cost of the other 9 months of the first year.

Arsenal Street will also get a shuttle, but right now the big businesses along that route – such as  Athenahealth and Residence Inn by Marriott – have their own shuttles. Simmons said the key to that would be to consolidate those shuttles and open them to the public, too.

For the Pleasant Street shuttle, there will likely be 3 to 4 stops that are in front of TMA members paying for the shuttle, said Michele Brooks from TransAction Associates, the firm hired by the Watertown TMA to mange the TMA. This gives the groups incentives to pay the dues.

The cost of the shuttle would be in the neighborhood of $150,000 a year, Brooks said. The plan is to run it for four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon and evening during the commute.

Simmons said that the public would be able to ride the shuttles for a fare. Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said the fare would not be high, probably around $1 to $2.

The group that will run the shuttle, the board of the Watertown TMA met in June to approve bylaws, a budget and elect officers. The group is made up of businesses, developments and residential complexes, along with the Town of Watertown.

The budget of $68,900 this year, and $34,450 each of the following two years, will pay for the creation of the TMA, but not the cost of the shuttle, Simmons said. The members would be charged fees to fund the startup of the TMA based on number of employees, square feet of space or housing unit. The first year they would pay $20 per employee, 1,000 sq. ft. or unit, and $10 per employee, 1,000 sq. ft. or unit for the second and third years. Separate assessments would be charged for the shuttle.

The officers elected to serve on the Watertown TMA board are Jeff Heidelberg from Boylston Properties as president, Emido Di Vigilio from Tufts Health Plan as treasurer and Watertown’s Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon as secretary.

The group also hired TransAction Associates to run the shuttle. The group runs multiple shuttles around the Boston area, including the Alewife TMA and the 128 Business Council shuttle.

“We are a full service transportation solutions firm and we also run shuttles,” Brooks said. “We have 90 shuttles on the ground every day.”

Brooks helps get shuttles off the ground, and is working with Acton and Bedford right now. Acton will transition to another TransAction soon, she said.

Councilor Tony Palomba wanted to make sure that the public has a say on the operation of the TMA, and particularly the shuttle. He worried that they would not be able to participate if there was not a board specifically formed to oversee the shuttle.

Simmons said TMA board would oversee both the overall organization and the shuttles. She noted that the TMAs bylaws allow residents to be appointed associate members. Simmons said the Town Council could recommend members of the Watertown Public Transportation Task Force and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, or others interested.

The Councilors also wanted to allow residents to give input about the shuttle. Simmons said a public meeting could be held to find out information such as the best locations for stops.

One thought on “Watertown Shuttle Could Start Running in Fall, or May Wait Until Spring

  1. I applaud that business are using shuttles to help relive the strain on the public transportation system and get there employees to work etc..
    I question the logic of the town doing it.
    If the public transportation system we have is not providing good enough service shouldn’t we fix what we have by adding to it or re-envisioning it?
    Seems like we might be going down a $ spending path which could be better done in concert with an infrastructure already available. Potentially unnecessary double spending.

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