Category Archives: Public transportation

Commuter Rewards Programs: Why Cambridge-based Green Streets Rocks

Is your workplace looking for an employee rewards program that encourages healthy/sustainable commuting? I’ve looked into different rewards programs in search of a partner and Green Streets Initiative’s (GSI) Walk/Ride Day Workplace Challenge is, by far, my favorite. Before I share why I think they’re superior to comparable programs, know that GSI runs a seven month Workplace Challenge whereby employees “check-in”, or record, their commute (modes and duration) on the last Friday of the month, between April and October. Participants are rewarded online, monthly, through raffles, discounts, and incentives offered by some participating employers.

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Self-Driving Cars Will Change More Than How We Drive

Last week I attended a fascinating conference on the future of transportation organized by Transportation for Massachusetts or T4MA. The organizers assembled an impressive list of speakers, including Robin Chase, CEO of ZipCar, Jackie DeWolf, Director of Sustainable Mobility at MassDOT, and Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts. Robin shared her thoughts on autonomous vehicles or AVs (they’ll be tested in Boston at year end!) and how cities can ensure they don’t deliver hell, or more congestion and more pollution. Her opinions and predictions were particularly intriguing, and they are nicely summarized in this Back Channel post and in her cool You Tube video. I also share her most important comments here:

  • The arrival of AVs will have a profound social, economic and environmental impact. Regulators need to make drastic changes to current regulation across a broad range of policy areas to ensure AVs benefit people and don’t lead to more congestion, pollution and unemployment.
    • “If we allow the introduction of autonomous vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution)”
  • Robin believes the solution to our woes lies in AVs that are electric and shareable, including the rides. The economics of a trip on a ride sharing AV will be too attractive for people to pass up (cheaper than a bus ticket) and car ownership will decline rapidly in cities.
    • Side note: I don’t see why we even need AVs to be cars. Why not introduce self-driving electric buses for even less congestion.
  • With fewer cars on the road, there will be less need for parking and cities can convert ugly parking lots into parks or affordable housing units
  • Shareable AVs will address congestion, pollution, safety and beautify the urban landscape, but what about taxes and jobs?
  • We need a revamp of how we collect tax revenues from the transportation sector. The gas tax must disappear and be replaced by road user fees based on fuel type, distance traveled and time of travel with the introduction of peak hour pricing. Cars that are roaming the block in search of parking or to wait for a passenger would get taxed more (the technical term is “zombie cars”)
  • This shift also requires a massive change in our employment system. Automation will lead to unemployment. Robin advocates for a minimum income, and the portability of benefits.
  • Furthermore, to ensure the arrival of AVs don’t lead to an increase in car ownership by wealthy individuals who can afford a third car, Robin believes governments should be requiring a moratorium on personal AV car ownership for five years. This will give shareable AVs a head start on being used and known as a shareable and green mode of transportation.

Wow! Implementing these massive changes over the course of the next five years will require policy makers to ignore a lot of other important issues and to work like investment bankers. What are the chances of that? These proposals are bold but necessary to build a cleaner, quieter and more just city.

Skedaddle to Gillette Stadium and Beyond

Last week my husband and I went to a Patriots home game at Gillette stadium. I had a fun time eating popcorn, drinking ONE beer, and watching the Patriots clobber the Texans. Being there was fun, but driving there and back was not as pleasant.  I know now that we could have taken the commuter rail that offers a special service from South Station to Gillette on Patriot home games only. The $20 round-trip ticket is worthwhile to avoid traffic, and feel less stressed and tired. In addition to the commuter rail, there is now another way to get to Patriots games, and, more critically, to get to events at Gillette stadium not conveniently serviced by public transportation. We can now use Skedaddle, an app-based crowdsourced travel service that matches groups of people seeking the same destination to luxurious buses. A simple download of the app and account registration allows members to find routes to join, or to set up their own pick-up address and destination. Happy Commutes blog readers get a $10 credit with code 3ca533.

Here’s how the service works. Individuals suggest routes and choose to make them public or private. Routes go live once an additional 9 people sign up. Buses can accommodate very large groups, depending on demand. Skedaddle is a simple concept that addresses multiple use cases:

  • Planning an event / outing for a large group? Routes can be made private
  • Feel like getting out of the city to explore nature. There’s a bus going to Great Blue Hill for a sunset hike on October 15, departing from Essex St. in Boston for $26. The organizer will provide snacks and hot cider.

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  • Trips also go out of state. If you have tickets to see the Patriots vs. Cleveland Browns game on October 7, there is a possible bus route going to the stadium in Cleveland from Boston for $166.
  • Skedaddle is also available to New Yorkers and there are several New York/Boston bus routes organized. Planning to attend The Head of the Charles?, I just saw a return trip from Cambridge to New York for $37.

The route options are diverse and the service is clever about motivating people to post new trips by giving a free ride to the route creator. So, if you set up a route to a popular destination, you will likely ride for free. I love this service for its flexibility, convenience and for the adventures now possible to city dwellers.

Get Rewarded for Your Green Commutes for #MACleanAir Week

Its Clean Air week in Massachusetts, a week during which we should think harder about our personal transportation choices and try out environmentally friendly modes. Among my circle of friends and acquaintances, no one seems to know much about this special week. There are personal benefits to obtain from participating in the Clean Air challenge: check out http://www.commute.com/CleanAir for more info. If you log your green rides through the site www.NuRide.com, you are eligible to earn a $100 Amazon gift card each day, through September 27. NuRide is also an easy and fun way to get discounts from retailers, restaurants, museums, and theaters year-round. For bikers, there is also another cool rewards program called Bicycle Benefits that gets you discounts when you bike to participating retail stores using a simple “sticker on the helmet” system.

So what efforts have I made so far to travel green this week? Aside from my usual four-block walk to take my kids to school, I chose green modes for two relatively long, 15-mile, round-trip jaunts this week. For my first trip I went from Back Bay to Alewife (Bus 1 to Central Square, then the Red line to Alewife). My second trip was more adventurous and fun as I rode my kick/electric scooter (the eMicro) from Back Bay to Newton, following the Charles River bike paths. Check out the picture I took below of an area of the Charles River Parkway that is completely hidden by trees; a pleasant escape from the sections adjacent to Storrow drive. For these commutes I get points from NuRide that I will be redeeming soon. For example, I plan to get tickets to an ImprovBoston show.

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While these commutes can be done by car in 30% to 40% of  the time I took using transit/walking/scootering,  I enjoyed these trips more than a car trip; I got some exercise, I did some reading on the train, I got some points in NuRide, I made a donation to a non-profit after chatting with a representative on Mass. Ave (I am still trying to decide how I feel about that detour).  But, are all of these benefits enough to change behavior? For most people, a 20-minute commute will almost always win out over a 50 minute one. Until public transportation gets faster in Boston, convincing many to leave their cars at home will be a challenge. Because of this reality, the Clean Air challenge is also open to drivers as long as they carpool. As an interesting side note, MassRides is looking for a ride matching service provider to partner with.

Did you get a chance to participate in the Clean Air challenge this week? Please share your thoughts about any changes you made to your transportation choices lately and what motivated you to make them.

MassBike and New Balance Bring Happier Commutes to Red Sox Games

Commuting to the Fenway area during baseball season can be daunting when the Sox are in town. On-street parking is banned on Brookline Avenue and surrounding streets as early as four hours before a game, while garage parking nearby is at least $40. The Green line train stops nearby, but is packed cheek-to-cheek with fans (and commuters) at gametime: not a pleasant experience in 90+ degree weather. Though the tough commute doesn’t deter Red Sox fans – it may even be part of the experience for some – a smoother version would be welcomed.

Well now there is a nicer way to get to the game. Thanks to a partnership between MassBike (The Massachusetts Biking Coalition), New Balance and the Boston Red Sox, you can now bike to Fenway Park and leave your bike with MassBike’s bike valet service for free.

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According to the website, “The bike valet is located across from Gate D on the corner of Van Ness Street and Yawkey Way, opening 1.5 hours prior to game time and closing a half an hour post-game.” Note that they will also accept kick scooters. Yay for happier commuting to Fenway games! Other crowded city venues and event organizers should take note and hire MassBike to provide bike valet services.

 

Chariots

A look at how San Francisco is adjusting to tougher commutes: private corporate buses and new mobile tech-enabled crowdsourced bus companies (Chariot, Leap).

Granola Shotgun

In the 1950’s and 60’s plans were drawn up to build an extensive rail network that would create a ring around San Francisco Bay connecting all the towns and cities in the region. It was an ambitious plan fitting an optimistic era of large projects.9countybartJake Coolidge

Below is a rendering of what that system would have looked like if it had actually been built.

RegionalRapidTransit_Dec2013revisionJake Coolidge

But this was also the height of white flight to the suburbs. Cities were in decline. The middle class was keen to escape anything that even hinted at the urban crime, pollution, and racial strife of the day. Local opposition successfully stopped BART from being built in most of the proposed suburbs. Instead, funding was limited and public money flowed to a highway network that looks almost exactly like the old rail plan. BART was limited to a bare bones system that connects San…

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Dissecting Boston Commuter Unhappiness

I ran a survey through Facebook ads to take a pulse of Boston-area commuter happiness. As of now, I have 25 responses: not a sufficient sample size for a scientific study of the topic, but enough to start writing about on this blog. The survey will remain open for those in the Boston-area who still want to contribute. Not surprisingly, about half of my survey participants are unhappy with their commutes.

Happiness with Commute

Source: Happycommutes.com survey conducted through Facebook, May-June 2016

Most of them take some form of public transportation. I had no bikers, one walker and four drivers, so a pretty transit-reliant population. About one-third (or 8 out of 25) consider themselves to be mixed mode commuters and combine public transportation with walking or driving.

How do you commute

 

 

 

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