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.

Business Coalition Urges Governor and Legislature to Create World-Class Transit System

A broad coalition of 25 business associations representing large and small employers from a wide range of industries today issued the following statement urging the Governor and the Legislature to adopt the recent recommendations made by the Special Panel to Review the MBTA and to swiftly begin the task of fixing the state’s public transit system:

Business Coalition Statement in Support of a World-Class Transit System

The Challenge
The winter of 2015 highlighted the Commonwealth’s transportation vulnerabilities, particularly for the MBTA. While school and business cancellations, a dramatic drop in retail sales, and an increase in public safety risks result from many major winter storms, the complete shutdown of the MBTA followed by a prolonged reduction in services for the subways and commuter rails are not the norm.
The unreliability of our public transit system caused many businesses to lose substantial revenues from the loss of productivity due to delays and/or the inability of workers to get to work. Many hourly workers forfeited wages; many retailers forfeited sales; many restaurants forfeited patrons; and the Commonwealth forfeited the income, sales and meals tax associated therewith. A sub-optimal public transit system also caused roadways to be more congested than usual and commuting times to grow to unreasonable lengths for those who opted to drive or were transporting goods. The adverse financial impacts totaled in the billions of dollars. This is unacceptable and must not be repeated.

The Framework
Due to the urgency of fixing the MBTA and the need for the public transit system to be reliable and fully functional, the undersigned business organizations are requesting policy makers to address the following issues:
• Make the T a customer-focused organization that provides first-rate service and clear communication while instilling confidence in its ridership.
• Provide greater accountability and transparency for the T’s governance and management practices to ensure the entity is efficiently and effectively run while employing a productive workforce.
• Develop a long-term strategic and capital plan for the T that efficiently uses its resources to enhance the current capabilities and future needs of the T, businesses and workers, while providing sufficient funding to cover the costs.
• Overhaul the T’s procurement and maintenance practices so that the system is safe, reliable and in a state of good repair.
• Establish metrics, milestones and regular reporting to ensure proper implementation of the T reforms within a reasonable period of time.
• Ensure that the T balances its operating budget without the need for ever-increasing state assistance each year.

The Solution
The undersigned support this position and urge the Governor and the Legislature to act swiftly so we can begin the arduous task of fixing the state’s public transit system.

Following a thorough analysis of the various recommendations from the Governor’s Special Panel to Review the MBTA, and measured against the principles outlined above, we endorse the Panel’s proposal and urge the Legislature to adopt the plan immediately.

The following business organizations support this statement:
495/MetroWest Partnership
Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield
American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts
Associated Industries of Massachusetts
Associated Subcontractors of Massachusetts
Construction Industries of Massachusetts
Environmental Business Council
Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
Greater Boston Real Estate Board
Massachusetts Biotechnology Council
Massachusetts Chemistry & Technology Alliance
Massachusetts High Tech Council
Massachusetts Lodging Association
Massachusetts Petroleum Council
Massachusetts Restaurant Association
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation
Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council
Massachusetts Business Roundtable
Metro South Chamber of Commerce
NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association
National Federation of Independent Businesses
Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce
North Shore Chamber of Commerce
Retailers Association of Massachusetts
South Shore Chamber of Commerce

Quotes from Business Coalition Members:
“The unreliability of the public transit system has caused many businesses to lose substantial revenues from the loss of productivity due to delays and the inability of workers to get to work,” said Richard Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM).

Eileen McAnneny, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said, “Now that the breadth and severity of the problems confronting the MBTA have been revealed and the price of inaction is evident, we have a real opportunity to move forward with a plan for transforming the MBTA into a modern, world-class public transit system.”

“The transit system experienced a ‘stress test’ and failed. The time is right to not only fix today’s MBTA, but ensure that it will meet future demands,” said David Begelfer, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

“The MBTA is critical to Greater Boston’s economy. Workers, customers, patients, students and tourists depend on it every day. We need to take the T to the next level right away,” said Paul Guzzi, President and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Thank You Governor Patrick

Deval_PatrickAfter eight years of leadership, later today Governor Patrick will take the Lone Walk and return to the private sector. In addition to the fact that during the past 100 years only one other governor of Massachusetts (Dukakis) has served the Commonwealth for eight uninterrupted years, Governor Patrick leaves behind a long list of accomplishments that have made Massachusetts a better place to live and work.

The Governor was one of the best salesmen/spokesmen for the Commonwealth that we have had in recent history. He traveled across the state and to numerous countries on trade missions. Having joined him on the mission to Israel, I can personally attest to the positive reactions he received from countless encounters with political leaders and business representatives. Many business partnerships have resulted from these missions and we have never seen such a spike in direct flights to and from Boston and many global markets.

The Patrick Administration supported business growth, with a particular focus on the life sciences and renewable energy sectors. This resulted in a substantial surge in employment growth, making Massachusetts a national leader in these emerging fields.

Governor Patrick also oversaw one of the first top-to-bottom regulatory reevaluations for all state agencies. Nearly 2,000 regulations were reviewed to determine which regulations should be rescinded or modified. In addition to this review, a system was put into place requiring that draft regulations go through an extensive vetting process and review by A&F, the Regulatory Ombudsman, and lastly, the Governor. As a result, MassDEP led the way on regulatory reform by establishing a target list of 21 different reforms within the Department. Most of these resulted in regulatory changes that will make a substantial improvement on the cost and time for the regulated community, without diminishing environmental protection.

While Governor Patrick worked to ensure government operated at “the speed of business,” he also never lost sight of the fact that he represented all of the citizens of the Commonwealth. People mattered to him and he learned from their stories. Their experiences shaped his leadership and policy priorities. Today’s column in The Boston Globe by Shirley Leung is a perfect example of this.

So, after eight years, we thank you Governor Patrick for your unwavering commitment to the people of Massachusetts and we wish you all the best in whatever the future may hold.

My Top Ten Predictions for 2015

2015It is that time of year when we try to look forward and plan accordingly. For the commercial real estate industry coming off a rather good year, we have to wonder if we are at the top or still growing?

Here are my predictions for the coming year:
1. Foreign buyers will outspend domestic investors for Boston and Cambridge properties and will make a dent in some communities along 128 (e.g. Burlington and Waltham). They will also be a major buyer of Boston condos.

2. Boston properties will be seeing a record number of office properties changing hands with some of those properties having already transferred ownership within the last 3 years.

3. No surprise that office rental rates in Boston and the surrounding areas will be increasing. I predict a minimum of 10% over this year. Apartment rents will continue to rise with some resistance in the newest buildings.

4. The Wynn Casino construction project will not be starting in 2015.

5. There will be one speculative office building announced in Cambridge, that’s it.

6. Design firms will have their busiest year renovating spaces and providing greater efficiency for existing tenants.

7. Construction costs are going to be up substantially, especially in downtown Boston, with greater difficulties getting multiple competitive subcontractor bids.

8. Boston will experience a major hurricane this coming Fall with substantial flooding due to storm surge.

9. The Federal Reserve will finally raise rates.

10. Boston will be selected by the US Olympic Committee to represent the US bid for the Summer Olympics.

Next governor needs transportation vision

This article originally appeared in the online CommonWealth Magazine.
The below version includes post-election updated information.

By most accounts, the Patrick transportationadministration and the Legislature have moved the needle forward on the issue of transportation. They know that investing in transportation infrastructure is critical to our state’s economy, quality of life and industrial competitiveness.

However, many aspects of the Commonwealth’s transportation system have already approached capacity constraints with increasing delays on congested highways and transit systems. At the same time, demand has increased and is predicted to continue over the coming years with no major increases in capacity coming soon. Without additional investments in our infrastructure, further declining services, increased travel times, and a degraded environment will be the future of the Massachusetts transportation system.

In 1970, Governor Frank Sargent created the Boston Transportation Planning Review that analyzed and redesigned the entire area-wide transit and highway system. It provided a blueprint for transportation policy and investment that we have been effectively following for the last 40 years.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation outlined the investments needed to stabilize today’s transportation system and proposed designing a system for the 21st century. Working together, the Massachusetts Legislature and the Patrick administration created and provided funding for a transportation plan that responded to years of deferred maintenance, underfunded transit operating costs, and delayed mass transit and regional transportation improvements. The funding focused primarily on bringing the Commonwealth’s existing transportation infrastructure into a state of good repair.

Unfortunately, the funding that was put in place fell short of what is needed to truly meet the existing and future transportation needs of the Commonwealth’s residents and businesses. What has been missing from the conversation of late is visionary thinking and a more expansive understanding of why investments in transportation are so important to the future of our state. With one of the highest housing costs in the nation, a solid transportation network that can expand access to a larger and more affordable housing market is critical to the success of our economic development centers.

Across the country – from the Research Triangle in North Carolina to the Texas Medical Center in Houston – state governments and private industry are investing in systems and incentives designed to replicate the Commonwealth’s innovation economy. Though Massachusetts has strengths in higher education, strong academic medical centers, and a historic commitment to innovative technologies, transit and access are weak links and a potential liability for recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce – and the companies that create those jobs.

As Governor-elect Baker begins to outline the issues that will be critical for the next four years, we assert that a top priority should be the establishment of a new long-range statewide visioning and planning effort for transportation. This will require strong leadership to take the bold steps necessary to establish a vision and make it a reality. To successfully implement such an initiative, we’d propose a few guidelines:

• Connectivity is key: With several strong innovation, life science, and health care clusters that are major economic engines for Massachusetts, creating a reliable network of roads and transit is necessary for improving the flow of ideas and people.

• Out-of-the-box thinking is vital: Aligning transportation programs with energy and environmental goals, focusing on seamless connections between air and rail, bus and subway, and making transportation information an integral part of our hand-held knowledge system are all planning efforts that can begin early in a governor’s term and be implemented over the next decades.

• Embracing multiple modes of transportation and access is essential: A 21st century statewide plan must include not only roads, bridges, and public transit, but also bicycle and pedestrian needs, as well as enhanced information sharing through technology.

• Public private partnerships can extend the reach: Innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors must be part of a long-term plan that addresses the needs of businesses and residents alike.

Long-term planning and continued investments in a modern, integrated, multi-modal network are critical to our global competitiveness. Massachusetts cannot lose out to those states that know that transportation investment equals economic growth.

David Begelfer is CEO of NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association, and Marilyn Swartz-Lloyd is CEO of MASCO.

Where is Housing for the Middle Income Family?

Thomas Grillo did an excellent job on BBJ’s recent article, “The story behind Greater Boston’s housing bottleneck”.

As rightly pointed out, communities have tightened permitting, making it harder to build and meet the demand for housing in general, and moderately priced and affordable units in particular. Zoning requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special by-laws, making the development process longer and more unpredictable. Interestingly, the municipalities and planners are crying out that they do not have enough control and want new land use reforms. However, there is currently a serious lack of permits issued for housing for families and these changes would actually hinder the production of reasonably priced housing.

Many communities have some of the strictest zoning in the region, with large minimum lot sizes, restrictions limiting multi-family housing, and unworkable cluster zoning ordinances. Opportunities for young families to rent a moderately price apartment or find a reasonably priced starter home is virtually impossible. The Massachusetts economy cannot fully expand without the support of its highly talented college graduates. Unfortunately, as the recovery continues nationally, local business leaders are finding it more difficult to attract the best talent when competing with other states. Economic development professionals across the country are already starting to attract young families out of our region and into areas that are more affordable, leaving us, yet again, with the risk of a declining skilled workforce.

The strangest trend to occur in housing production is that children have become society’s “toxic waste”! Many housing proposals that would attract families with school age kids are denied at the local level. More and more municipalities are fighting the permitting of three or four bedroom apartment units, or even requiring 55 and older residency age restrictions. If it appears that developments will bring children into the community, they are fought aggressively by the local boards. Even towns where the school populations are predicted to decline are reluctant to allow apartments that accommodate two or more children.

We are losing our 25 to 34 year olds at a faster clip than we are growing our total population. Our future is our young families and their children. Once and for all, we need to develop a serious policy that allows for the construction of family-friendly apartment housing and of smaller, denser, affordable, single family starter homes.

The future of our economy and our workforce depends on it.


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