Progress on getting shuttle buses on the roads of Watertown appears to have stalled, with no start date in sight. The news disappointed Town Councilors and others at the Economic Development and Planning subcommittee meeting.
In August, coordinators of the Watertown TMA (Transportation Management Association) hoped to get a pilot for a shuttle on Pleasant Street started by the spring of 2018. On Tuesday night, Michele Brooks from TransAction Associates, the firm hired by the Watertown TMA to mange the TMA, said the start of the shuttle will have to wait.
She has been meeting with the TMA’s Board of Directors, which includes members paying into the TMA. A shuttle would be one part of the TMA.
“We were looking at a shuttle on Pleasant Street primarily looking at connecting to Watertown Square,” Brooks said. “When we talked to people they were not ready to commit. It was tabled and would be possible in the future.”
Town Councilor Tony Palomba, who is not on the subcommittee but who served on the former Transportation Committee that pushed for the TMA, said he did not like what he was hearing.
“I am a little concerned with how slow it has been going,” Palomba said. “We met in October and we were talking about the shuttle and you said you need a year. We are six months into that year and to be honest there seems to be little progress.”
The decision to start a shuttle or not is up to the TMA Board, not the Town Council. Brooks said that the TMA Board is not likely to go ahead with a shuttle until enough businesses or apartment complexes agree to back it financially.
One apartment complex on Pleasant Street said it would take part in a shuttle. Brooks said she was hopeful she might get two more to join, but no others were willing to commit, which would require paying a share of the operation cost – about $25,000 to $50,00 a year.
Town Councilor Ken Woodland, who is chair of the Economic Development and Planning Committee, said he has been telling residents for years that a shuttle is around the corner, yet it has not arrived.
“What should I tell resident of Pleasant Street? Two-and-a-half years ago I told them they would get a shuttle in 8 months,” Woodland said. “It wasn’t clear if we want a shuttle whether we have to pay for it. The point of the shuttle, in my mind, is to reduce traffic.”
Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon, who sits on the TMA Board as the Town’s representative, said that there are some projects on Pleasant Street that are required to take part in a shuttle as part of the developments’ approval, but they have not been built yet.
Brooks said others have expressed interest, including the City of Newton, but have not yet joined. In the meantime, she said she may look at starting a shuttle on Arsenal Street to the Red Line in Harvard Square by combining with an existing shuttles run by Athenahealth and a planned one for the Linx office building (formerly Verizon).
TransAction has been visiting members and trying to spread information about other programs, such as ride sharing, emergency rides home and a promotion where people who now drive to work can get a free MBTA Pass for two months to see how that works. Brooks visited the Gables apartment complex, Tufts Health Plan, Watertown Mews apartment complex and Athenahealth.
Palomba asked whether it would be worth pushing forward with a pilot to show people how it would work and get people to sign on after it starts. Brooks recommended against doing a 3 month pilot with no guarantee it would continue.
“People want to know they can count on it and if they lose confidence it is really hard to get it back,” Palomba said.
Magoon said that if the Council really wants shuttle to get on the road, the Town could consider paying more for the service.
“Maybe we should look at the Town being the funder of the pilot,” Magoon said.
The TMA Board will be getting two new members, residents who will serve as non-voting members who advise on issues, Brooks said. Magoon said a request for applications from residents will soon go out.