While Boston and Cambridge have enjoyed phenomenal growth in recent years, many other areas of the state are struggling. While this has many causes, unequal transportation access is a major factor.
Our so-called “Gateway Cities”, the former industrial centers that grew and prospered along our railroad lines, and withered with their decline, are particularly disadvantaged by poor transportation access. A 2008 study by MassInc and the Brookings Institution documented the importance of better regional transportation for these cities, and the important role they could play for the Commonwealth if they were better connected to the thriving parts of our economy.
More recently, a Harvard study (New York Times article \\ Atlantic article \\ Harvard paper) showed that one of the single most important factors in a family’s ability to escape poverty is access to public transportation – more important than schools or family structure. Poor transportation is opportunity denied.
With the cost of car ownership rising, and the rate of ownership declining, especially with younger workers, good regional public transportation is more important than ever. Many other regions understand this and are aggressively raising the bar we once set. Our own antiquated rail systems (for they do not comprise a single system) are a hodge-podge of century-old lines that we have kept going - but only just, as a shadow of their former selves and in no way appropriate for the 21st century economy our children will compete in.