Ridesharing May be Saved by Technology

RideshareThe Clean Air Act was created to respond to the ever-increasing air pollution that has come from industrial expansion and a reliance on fossil fuels for energy and transportation. Automobiles are a major source of air pollution (e.g. hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide). It is estimated that road traffic accounts for about 40 percent of the pollution that contributes to ground-level ozone (the main ingredient in smog).

Single occupancy vehicles have long dominated the roadways, especially for commuters. In an effort to reduce pollution, states, like Massachusetts, have adopted Rideshare Programs. Ridesharing is the sharing of vehicles by passengers to reduce vehicle trips, traffic congestion and automobile emissions. Ridesharing (carpooling, vanpooling, public transport), as well as bicycle commuting and walking, are all goals of these programs.

Locally, the idea has been for Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to work with large employers (with more than 1,000 employees) to promote commuting options. The program depends on corporate surveys of worker commuter patterns, providing a menu of commuting options, offering incentives, and documenting the resulting annual changes in patterns, hopefully to successfully meet a specific performance goal of reducing by 25 percent the number of times commuters drive alone to work.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, these programs have had limited success, but continue to burden the employer with annual compliance costs. Part of the problem has always been the difficulty of organizing car-pooling and the uncertainties due to the drivers’ and passengers’ daily schedules.

We are all getting accustomed to technology searching for logistical problems to solve. The ridesharing conundrum is one of those problems and “real-time ridesharing” are the solutions beginning to be provided by Transportation Network Companies, such as LyftUber and Sidecar. These companies, with their mobile apps, arrange one-time rides on an on-demand basis.

Both Lyft (Lyft Line) and Uber have now introduced a carpooling service in Boston. Passengers along a route get in the car at a price cheaper than the ride-for-hire alternative. The trip has to maintain its original route as it picks up other customers, who have to be ready immediately to get in the car when it arrives for them.

Although this service is currently limited to the Boston/Cambridge market, there is no question that an expansion of this service into the suburban market is inevitable.

It is also not very difficult to foresee an app that allows single occupancy drivers to easily connect with fellow commuters heading in the same direction, on a ride by ride basis. With no long-term commitments and many scheduling alternatives available, it seems like an easy fix. Yeah, we’ve got an app for that!

MBTA Control Board’s First Report Shows Urgent Need For Change

The MBTA’s new Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) has just issued its first 60-day report identifying the scope of the challenges facing the T. The GreenLineFMCB has been tasked with identifying and shaping solutions to improve operations and performance. The report is extensive, probing, and extremely candid. The Board members should be congratulated on producing such a clear case for moving from the status quo to a system that is reliable, transparent, and sustainable.

It is no surprise that the some of the underlying problems are even more serious than originally thought. Firstly, the MBTA’s annual operating budget is unsustainable, with expenses increasing at nearly three times the rate of revenue growth. Secondly, annual capital spending on deferred maintenance and capital investment is substantially below the $472 million annual spending needed to prevent the backlog from further increasing. The prolonged under-spending has caused the backlog in capital investment to rise to $7.3 billion. The report states that the management team has committed to ensuring that available capital funds are spent, maintaining the MBTA system at a level that will prevent the backlog from further increasing while improving the overall condition of the system and its facilities as expeditiously as possible.

The FMCB has reported some progress:

• Total Capital spending increased to $740 million in FY2015 and is budgeted to be $1.05 billion in FY2016.
• The MBTA planned, designed, and is executing a Winter Resiliency Plan to better prepare the system to withstand major storms and extended periods of cold.
• The MBTA and Keolis Commuter Services have signed a Performance Improvement Plan and are working to address identified shortfalls in performance.
• The FMCB and MBTA management are developing a strategy to make improvements in the procurement and contracting processes and to review all existing service contracts (e.g., the MBTA issued a Request for Information for the private-sector on some low and moderate ridership bus routes, express bus routes, and late-night bus service).
• The FMCB and MBTA management are focusing on performance metrics to drive improvement in MBTA operational practices and to expand transparency and accountability with the riding public.
• The FMCB and MBTA leadership are also pursuing efforts to increase workforce productivity and to reduce absenteeism among MBTA staff.
• The FMCB is committed to a positive employee engagement program, understanding that morale, sense of mission, clear management and decision-making structures, and workforce investments are all necessary ingredients for any successful organization.

It is very clear to the reader of this report that the work of FMCB has just begun. The goal is to have a transit system that is sustainable and accomplishes its mission. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the MBTA will be operating efficiently. It will certainly take a lot of work by a dedicated management team and workforce. However, there is no alternative. Businesses, residents, and workers must have an MBTA that is reliable.

Social Media in the Real Estate Industry

The real estate industry is all about people. Whether you’re a developer working to find an investor or a leasing agent trying to reach potential tenants during lease-up, real estate professionals are all looking to make the personal connections that are vital to success in the industry.

Social media in an incredible tool for reaching the people who drive the real estate industry. NAIOP Massachusetts, in partnership with communications firm Solomon McCown & Company, surveyed more than 100 real estate professionals in June 2015 on how they use social media for their business. How do architects, construction professionals, brokers, developers and professionals in all aspects of the business use digital communication tools? Here are the key takeaways from our survey.

LinkedIn is the most popular social media platform for real estate professionals (Tweet this!), with 52.3 percent of those polled saying they use it. Facebook was a distant second place, with 20 percent of professionals saying they use the world’s largest social media network.

Only 6.5 percent of those surveyed said they don’t use social media for personal or professional use. (Tweet this!) It’s clear that professionals in all areas of the industry are active on social channels.

81 percent of professionals in the real estate industry access social media networks on mobile devices. (Tweet this!)

Social media isn’t just used by young professionals. (Tweet this!) While nearly 81 percent of 21-30 year olds in our survey say they use social media both personally and professionally, 66.7 percent of 61-70 year olds also use digital communication tools.

100 percent of real estate brokers surveyed believe social media helps them to do their jobs. (Tweet this!) The only differentiation is to what degree social media is helpful: 61.9 percent of brokers consider social media to be very helpful, while 38.1% consider it somewhat helpful.

89 percent of brokers surveyed have found new leads through social media. (Tweet this!) No wonder 100 percent of brokers say that social media helps them in their professional lives!

One-third of real estate owners say they only use social media a few times a year. (Tweet this!) A scant 22 percent of owners say they understand social media enough to do it in-house at their companies. (What a missed opportunity!)

How do professionals measure success? In our poll, 65 percent of respondents said that engagement with their target audience was the most important goal for their social media campaign. Sourcing new leads was the primary indicator of success for 26 percent of those surveyed.

Take a deep dive into the data unearthed by the NAIOP/Solomon McCown survey in the infographic below.


Plaintiffs Drop Stormwater Lawsuit Against EPA: NAIOP Applauds Decision & Remains Opposed to RDA as Regulatory Tool

Yesterday, the Conservation Law Foundation and Charles River Watershed Association, plaintiffs in Conservation Law Foundation, Inc., et al v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, et al., voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice. NAIOP Massachusetts filed a Motion to Intervene in the case.

The plaintiffs in that case sought to compel EPA to impose a new regulatory program that would have required owners of commercial, institutional, industrial and high density residential properties in the Charles River watershed with one acre or more of impervious area (parking lots, roofs, sidewalks) to apply for a stormwater discharge permit through the use of EPA’s rarely used “Residual Designation Authority” (RDA). NAIOP decided to intervene in the case given the significant impact this duplicative and burdensome regulatory program would have had on property owners in a watershed that includes 35 communities and covers 310 square miles.

“NAIOP has long supported the overall objective of improving water quality throughout the Charles River Watershed, but with compliance costs estimated to be in excess of $1 billion, the RDA approach is simply not the right tool,” said David Begelfer, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts. “We are pleased the plaintiffs dropped the suit. Such important policy decisions should not be negotiated behind closed doors. NAIOP urges EPA to carefully think through this issue, seek feedback from affected stakeholders, and ensure any potential programs are cost-effective, feasible and fairly allocate the regulatory burdens and costs.”

NAIOP will continue to monitor this issue closely and keep members informed of any new developments.

NAIOP Files to Intervene in Costly Charles River Watershed Stormwater Court Case

NAIOP Massachusetts recently filed a Motion to Intervene in Conservation Law Foundation, Inc., et al v. United State Environmental Protection Agency, et al. The plaintiffs in that case seek to compel USEPA to impose a new regulatory program that would require owners of commercial, institutional, industrial and high density residential properties in the Charles River watershed with one acre or more of impervious area (parking lots, roofs, sidewalks) to apply for a stormwater discharge permit. NAIOP decided to intervene in the case given the significant impact this duplicative and burdensome regulatory program would have on property owners in a watershed that includes 35 communities and covers 310 square miles.

On April 28, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Charles River Watershed Association filed a complaint in federal court alleging that nutrients, including phosphorus, in runoff from a number of “commercial, industrial, institutional, and high density residential” properties are polluting the Charles River. The goal of the lawsuit is to force EPA into using its rarely used “Residual Designation Authority” (RDA) in the 35 communities that make up the Charles River Watershed to create a new stormwater permitting program. This proposed program would be in addition to the recently issued stormwater permitting program for municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), which collect and manage a substantial portion of the stormwater discharged into the Charles River from developed properties. In this case, CLF is incorrect; EPA does not have a requirement to use the RDA.

This will affect all privately owned commercial and multifamily properties in the Charles River Watershed (communities including Boston, Cambridge, Needham, Newton, Natick, etc.) with more than one acre of impervious area.

In 2010, EPA proposed an RDA pilot stormwater permitting program in the towns of Milford, Franklin and Bellingham. As proposed, this program would require property owners to construct costly, retrofitted stormwater treatment systems. EPA funded a study to determine the potential costs to comply with its proposed permitting program. Though the pilot program targeted sites with two acres or more of impervious area, compared to the one acre threshold now being considered, the total cost in the three communities to comply with the draft permit was astronomical. EPA’s own consultants estimated that the costs would be at least $180 million for the three communities. Expanding such a program to all 35 communities in the Charles River Watershed would easily move that number into the billions. Costly and substantial retrofits of privately owned property would be immediately required if this is implemented. We estimate the costs to be at least $150,000 per acre for compliance. This would apply to existing owners, even if they are not redeveloping or renovating their property.

NAIOP supports the overall objective of improving water quality throughout the Charles River Watershed. However, any regulatory program developed to achieve that objective must be cost-effective, feasible and fairly allocate the regulatory burdens and costs. As we learned through the pilot program, the RDA approach is not the right tool. NAIOP has long championed alternative approaches that focus on public education, source control, and Best Management Practices. We actively supported the recent legislation restricting the use of phosphorous-containing fertilizers. Our intervention in the lawsuit will provide an important stakeholder group with an opportunity to have a seat at the table as these important policy and economic issues are being discussed.

Climate change legislation will cause a flood of regulations

The following Op Ed appeared in the Boston Business Journal on July 31, 2015.

As we saw in New York City with Hurricane Sandy, climate change can have significant impacts affecting the overall economy; directly, by damaging structures, and indirectly, by compromising transportation systems, communications, and utilities. An increasing number of extreme weather events and future sea level rise may lead to more frequent and extensive flooding along the East Coast.

A primary role for city and state governments should be to ensure the continuity and protection of public infrastructure and public safety. The business community, and the community at large, need to have a clear understanding of the government’s responsibilities and its plans for preparing infrastructure and critical services for these potentially cataclysmic events.

NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, has long been one of the leading business groups advocating for a coordinated approach between the public and private sectors with respect to climate change planning.

However, we are very concerned about a bill that was recently passed by the Senate to establish a far reaching planning and regulatory process for addressing climate change. Senate Bill 1979 contains very subjective, vague, and expansive language that could have extremely negative consequences for the Massachusetts economy today and into the future.

We believe the open-ended language the bill contains could lead to widely varying interpretations of how the legislation should be implemented, creating uncertainty and potentially stalling projects for years to come. While we believe that climate change planning is an important issue, this bill is not the solution. Under the legislation, all grants, permits, licenses, approvals, or actions of any kind for any proposed projects, uses or activities issued by any state agency or state authority could be challenged and held hostage to these ambiguous goals. This would open the “regulatory door” to a wide range of proposals, substantially changing and exceeding well established standards and procedures – with few having any direct connection to climate change.

Given how this vague and confusing language could be interpreted, the potential for lengthy and costly legal challenges is quite high.

For these and many other reasons, the bill, as written, cannot and should not be passed into law.

Addressing climate change and sea level rise requires coordination at the highest level of state government and the participation of many state agencies. There needs to be a balance of adequate planning and a risk-based, cost-benefit analysis to ensure that funds are prudently expended by the public and private sectors when considering climate change-related investments. Through such an effort, climate change resiliency will become a more attainable goal.

NAIOP Applauds Legislature for Budget with Important T Reforms

Last night a $38.1 billion state budget (H. 3650) was released from conference committee. NAIOP applauds the conference committee members (House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka, Sens. Sal DiDomenico and Vinny deMacedo and Reps. Stephen Kulik and Todd Smola), Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo for their leadership in passing a bill that includes important reforms for the MBTA.

One of the most important aspects of the bill (and something NAIOP has championed) is the creation of a MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board chaired by the Secretary of MassDOT. The budget states that the Fiscal and Management Control Board shall “initiate and assure the implementation of appropriate measures to secure the fiscal, operational and managerial stability of the authority and shall continue in existence until June 30, 2018.” A two year extension beyond 2018 could be granted if needed. The Board shall formulate and recommend a plan to the secretary of transportation to stabilize and strengthen the finances, management, operations and asset condition of the authority. The Fiscal and Management Control Board will also develop performance metrics and measure items included in the plan. NAIOP believes the creation of the Control Board will provide greater accountability and transparency for the T’s governance and management practices and is critical to ensure a safe, reliable, fiscally stable, modern transit system for Massachusetts.

The budget also suspends the Pacheco Law for three years. The Pacheco Law requires a vetting process before privatization of services at the MBTA and, according to a report released today by the Pioneer Institute, it has cost the MBTA at least $450 million since 1997. NAIOP strongly supports this important reform.

The House and Senate are expected to approve the budget today and then it goes to Governor Baker for his review. He then has 10 days to review it review it before signing it and announcing amendments and vetoes.

NAIOP will continue to actively advocate for transportation reforms that support roads, bridges, public transit – and economic growth.