DATE: November 7, 2019
TO: Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)
FROM: Michelle Scott, MPO Staff
RE: MPO Transit Committee Outreach Results and Staff Recommendations
This memorandum describes outreach that Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) staff conducted with transit providers and other stakeholders in the Boston region regarding the possible creation of an MPO transit committee. It discusses the approaches staff used to engage potential participants, and it summarizes their feedback. The memorandum also outlines staff’s recommendations for piloting a transit working group during federal fiscal year (FFY) 2020, which have been informed by feedback from the outreach process. Staff requests that the MPO begin to discuss this feedback and staff’s recommendations for a pilot at its November 7, 2019, MPO meeting.
The MPO last discussed options for a proposed transit committee at its April 11, 2019, meeting, which was part of a broader discussion on whether and how to expand public transportation provider representation on the MPO board. This discussion originated in response to a 2015 federal certification review recommendation that the MPO should work with the Cape Ann Transportation Authority (CATA) and the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA) to ensure that these providers of public transportation are represented on the MPO board in a way that is satisfactory to all parties and satisfies relevant Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Actrequirements (more details included in Appendix A).1 During the April 11, 2019, meeting, MPO staff presented initial recommendations regarding an MPO transit committee and its potential role in public transportation provider representation. These recommendations were made in response to a motion the MPO adopted at its November 8, 2018, meeting, which stipulated that
At that meeting, MPO staff proposed a transit committee mission that included the following elements:
As part of staff’s original April 11, 2019, proposal, the committee would include a set of designated members, including the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), MWRTA, CATA, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Rail and Transit Division. Other members, who would potentially have fixed terms, would include representatives from regional transit authorities besides MWRTA and CATA that operate in the MPO region; transportation management association (TMAs); and municipal-level transit providers. In this April 11, 2019, proposal, MPO staff recommended that the committee be represented on the MPO board by either MWRTA or CATA.
The MPO board discussed several related aspects of this proposal at its April 11, 2019 meeting. For example, a challenge that might affect the ability of staff’s initial proposal to MWRTA and CATA representation is that representatives of MWRTA and CATA reported in March and April 2019 that they would no longer find a seat on a transit committee to be a satisfactory solution for their representation, and they have communicated support for direct representation on the MPO board.2 In addition, as part of its initial set of recommendations, MPO staff suggested that the MPO invite potential committee participants to an event during which MPO members and staff would describe the MPOs plans to create a transit committee and share current proposals for structuring the committee. The goal of this outreach activity would be for the MPO to gauge the interest of potential participants and collect their feedback to inform the MPO’s decision making. The MPO ultimately directed staff to conduct such outreach and bring feedback to the MPO board to support future discussions.
MPO staff followed a two-step approach to collect feedback about the proposed committee. The first step involved conducting preliminary interviews with transit providers about their interest in a committee. The second step involved hosting a meeting so that (1) transit providers could discuss the proposed committee as a group, and (2) members of the public could attend and provide their feedback.
MPO staff sent out an introductory email about the proposed transit committee to representatives of five RTAs besides MWRTA and CATA that operate in the Boston region,10 TMAs that provide transit service, and six cities, towns, or volunteer organizations that provide transportation services in Boston region municipalities. (MPO staff did not interview CATA and MWRTA during this part of the process because they had been involved in the MPO’s earlier discussions.) MPO staff interviewed respondents by phone or emailed them a short survey, depending on their preference and availability, to collect their feedback. To support these interviews, MPO staff distributed a fact sheet that included background information on the committee (see Appendix B). The interview discussion topics generally included
If a transit provider was a current member of the MPO’s Regional Transportation Advisory Council (Advisory Council), staff asked about (1) the organization’s current or recent experiences participating in Advisory Council meetings, (2) factors or barriers affecting involvement with the Advisory Council, and (3) whether it would prefer to participate in a more transit-focused MPO-related group.
Between May 17 and June 6, MPO staff interviewed representatives the Brockton Area Transit Authority and the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority; nine TMA representatives; and four municipal staff or volunteers responsible for providing public transportation services at the neighborhood or municipal level.
MPO staff invited transit providers and members of the public to an MPO-hosted meeting on June 4, 2019, to discuss the proposed committee. A combined 21 representatives of transit providers and members of the public attended this outreach meeting (see Appendix C). Participants included representatives of RTAs, TMAs, municipalities that provide transit services, local advocacy or advisory groups, MassDOT, and the Advisory Council, among others. At the meeting, staff presented general information about the proposed transit committee along with a summary of input that MPO staff collected during the preliminary interviews. Transit providers were given an opportunity to respond to the interview questions at the meeting if they were not able to participate in a preliminary interview; the group also discussed possible transit topics around which they could coordinate. Members of the public were given a dedicated time during the meeting to share their thoughts, reactions, and ideas.
Key themes from transit provider and public feedback from this process include the following:
Appendix D provides detail on transit provider and public feedback on topics including, but not limited to, possible areas for coordination among transit providers; meeting logistics; and transit provider involvement in the Advisory Council.
After reviewing and considering the feedback from the outreach process, MPO staff recommends that the MPO pilot a transit working group for a period of approximately one federal fiscal year as a first step toward creating a potential permanent committee or working group. Continuing to explore the creation of such a group may be advantageous to the MPO for several reasons irrespective of transit provider representation on the MPO board:
A pilot would enable the MPO to test a transit coordinating body before making a formal, long-term commitment to it through modifications to the MPO’s MOU. During the pilot, the MPO would learn more about how this group could function, who attends its meetings, and what it is able to accomplish in terms of generating feedback for MPO consideration and advancing action on other topics of interest to committee participants. Both the MPO and transit working group participants would learn whether the group would likely be a productive use of their respective time and resources. The pilot would also give the MPO and participating transit providers opportunities to learn about ways they could structure the group to maximize its benefits.
The MPO has approved $46,300 in planning funds to support a transit committee’s activities during federal fiscal year (FFY) 2020. During the pilot period, MPO staff would report regularly to the MPO about transit working group activities and discussions and participant feedback. At the conclusion of the pilot period, staff would provide recommendations for how a transit working group or committee could proceed going forward.
The sections that follow outline staff’s recommendations for various aspects of the working group pilot, including the group’s activities, participants, and relationship to the MPO board. MPO staff uses the term “working group” throughout the remainder of this memo because it may best characterize how this group might function.
Based on feedback from potential participants and prior MPO discussions, MPO staff recommends that transit working group pilot meetings include time for each of these activities:
During preliminary interviews and at the outreach meeting, potential transit working group participants suggested a variety of individuals and organizations that could participate in group discussions and support coordination on transit issues. During the pilot, the MPO could apply a relatively informal structure or flexible approach to involve participants in the transit working group’s discussions and activities. This flexible approach may help the MPO gather valuable information about how to maximize the group’s long-term term effectiveness, should the MPO choose to continue it after the pilot.
MPO staff suggests the following set of categories for organizing potential participants, which are based on previous MPO staff proposals and findings from the outreach. While these categories are fungible and may not have a strong influence on how participants interact during the pilot, they could lay the groundwork for a transition to a more formal structure in the future, should the MPO decide to create one.
These entities support the core transit services provided in the Boston region and may be able to act most directly on transit issues discussed by a pilot transit working group and/or that relate to MPO activities. Should the transit working group continue past the pilot period and take on a formal structure, these entities may be the most likely to become official members and/or have voting privileges. This group would likely include representatives from the following organizations or agencies:
Participants in this group may not be as directly involved in addressing solutions to transit issues identified by the working group or that relate to the MPO, but they could provide ideas and feedback during transit working group discussions, or they may have some roles in taking action on identified solutions. This group may include representatives from the following agencies or organizations:
Participants in this group may attend or may be invited to attend specific meetings of a pilot transit working group to provide insight on topics of interest, but they are not expected to be regular attendees. These visiting participants may include representatives from chambers of commerce, MassDOT’s Highway Division, or transportation network companies, among others.
MPO staff would track participation in each of these categories during the pilot phase to see what level and types of participation a future transit working group may be able to sustain. This tracking would also help MPO staff suggest how to best organize governance of any future group.
During the pilot phase, the MPO may not need to establish a formal leadership structure for the transit working group. This recommendation differs from the proposed set of designated and fixed-term members that MPO staff presented on April 11, 2019; however, it would be in keeping with a more flexible and open approach to participation as the MPO and participants explore how the group could function. One option for organizing the group’s activities could be that MPO staff takes general responsibility for meeting logistics and facilitation. Staff could also invite participants, particularly those in the Core Transit Providers and Related Agencies category, to support facilitation efforts or lead discussions on particular topics if they are interested. At the conclusion of the pilot, MPO staff could summarize discussions held by the working group, analyze how these processes functioned and make recommendations to the MPO on how to establish a more formal committee structure, if desired. At this point, the MPO could work with Advisory Council leadership to determine how the MPO’s transit working group could relate to the Advisory Council, particularly in terms of membership and voting privileges.
As discussed in Section 1, the MPO’s explorations of a transit committee began in response to a federal certification review recommendation that the MPO expand representation for CATA and MWRTA on the MPO board. In addition, as previously mentioned, representatives of MWRTA and CATA have reported that they would no longer find a seat on a transit committee to be a satisfactory solution for their representation and have communicated support for direct representation on the MPO board.3 Staff also found during the outreach process that other transit providers generally seemed to be more interested in opportunities for coordination relative to opportunities to provide input on MPO decisions. At this time, there does not appear to be a strong demand for representation on the MPO board from potential participants besides MWRTA and CATA.
Given these factors and the exploratory nature of the pilot, MPO staff recommends that the MPO not provide a seat on the board for the transit working group during the pilot period. During this period, the MPO could see if a demand for representation on the MPO board increases among transit providers and affiliates as they meet and work together in this group. The MPO may find this to be the case and may wish to institute a more formal membership and representation structure for the group in the future, should it continue. Alternatively, the MPO may find that that it may be better to keep the group focused on coordination and to maintain a more flexible structure to encourage diverse participation. The pilot would also provide information about whether the group would have sufficient attendance to support transit provider coordination or input for MPO activities, or for the MPO to consider representing it on its board.
If the MPO decides to proceed with staff’s proposals, staff requests that the MPO review its existing motion from November 8, 2018, (described in Section 1) and then determine whether to create a new or modified motion regarding to pilot a transit working group for one year, in accordance with staff’s recommendations. These recommendations include keeping the pilot working group’s structure relatively flexible and not representing the group on the MPO board during the pilot period. A new or modified motion could help provide clear direction to staff as it proceeds with pilot activities.
Given MPO staff’s recommendations for a pilot transit working group’s activities, participants, structure, and relationship to the MPO board, staff recommends removing the first statement from the mission proposed on April 11, 2019 (“Represent public transportation providers serving the Boston region on the MPO board”). Staff proposes maintaining the two remaining statements:
At the conclusion of the pilot, the MPO could consider whether it would incorporate representation-related or other elements into the group’s mission, should the group continue.
At the end of the pilot period, staff would summarize information about the pilot’s progress and participant feedback and provide a final update to the MPO board. In addition, staff would provide recommendations for how a transit working group could function in the future. At that point, the MPO could decide to establish an ongoing transit working group with a flexible structure that is primarily focused on coordination, or it could create a group with a more formal membership structure and possibly grant it representation on the MPO board. The MPO could also end the pilot and choose not to support a transit working group in the future.
Whether the MPO adopts staff’s recommendations for the pilot or takes another approach, it will eventually need to consider how to address the related question of MWRTA and CATA representation. The MPO could choose to defer discussion of this issue until further along in the pilot period or after the pilot is complete, which would likely be in the fall of 2020. Alternatively, the MPO could discuss and take action on the question of MWRTA and CATA representation on the MPO board, separate from the transit working group pilot, at an upcoming MPO meeting.
At the November 7, 2019, MPO meeting, MPO staff requests that the MPO begin to discuss the results of staff’s outreach regarding an MPO transit committee and staff’s recommendations for creating a transit working group pilot. Should the MPO ultimately decide to proceed with staff’s recommendations, staff requests that the MPO consider modifying its existing (November 8, 2018) motion or create a new motion to pilot a transit working group for a year, in accordance with these recommendations.
If the MPO proceeds with conducting a transit working group pilot, staff will contact potential transit committee participants to inform them of the MPO’s decision and about initial activities that will be involved in setting up the committee. These will include establishing an initial meeting date and identifying a process or plan to guide transit working group meeting agendas. In addition, staff will modify the Transit Committee Support project description in the FFY 2020 UPWP to make it more reflective of work needed to support the transit working group pilot, as needed.
1 More background on these discussions is included in the April 11, 2019, memorandum titled “Recommendations for an MPO Transit Committee,” available at www.ctps.org/data/calendar/pdfs/2019/MPO_0411_Memo_MPO_Transit_Committee.pdf.
2 Boston Region MPO Staff. “Recommendations for an MPO Transit Committee.” April 11, 2019. www.ctps.org/data/calendar/pdfs/2019/MPO_0411_Memo_MPO_Transit_Committee.pdf, pages 4–6.
3 Boston Region MPO Staff. “Recommendations for an MPO Transit Committee.” April 11, 2019. www.ctps.org/data/calendar/pdfs/2019/MPO_0411_Memo_MPO_Transit_Committee.pdf, pages 4–6.