Category: Environment

Bills look to extract more money from Uber, Lyft

BOSTON — East Boston Rep. Adrian Madaro was running late Tuesday morning to testify on legislation meant to address the frustrating congestion that plagues Boston’s highways and main city streets and roads because he was “stuck in traffic in the Sumner Tunnel surrounded by” cars from ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Those ride-for-hire services, or transportation network companies (TNCs) as the state refers to them, have exploded in popularity and contribute to the congestion, especially single-passenger trips and trips that start or end with an empty car at the airport, Madaro said.

Once he got out of the tunnel and into the State House, Madaro was joined by Boston Rep. Jay Livingstone to pitch the Financial Services Committee on legislation (H 1039) that would change the fee structure for TNCs to generate new funding for public transit options and the communities that deal with the worst congestion.

“This situation and the fight over the roads, especially with respect to Boston, it’s really a negative feedback loop where people are discouraged with the time buses are taking to go anywhere so they’re using TNCs as and alternative to that, and that is causing buses to take even longer,” Livingstone said.

Madaro and Livingstone said the bill acknowledges that the 20 cent per TNC ride fee imposed by the Legislature in a 2016 law is insufficient and that the rigid fee structure is not flexible enough to truly mitigate the effects of TNCs.

“We now know that this fee is too low in proportion to the traffic and congestion effects these rideshares have on our city streets,” Madaro said. He added, “By switching from an outdated, low, flat fee to a dynamic percentage fee, we are more accurately accounting for the impact these rides have on our communities and our infrastructure.”

The bill would change the fee to be a percentage of the total ride cost calculated by distance and demand, Madaro said. The structure would differentiate between solo rides and pooled rides with multiple passengers by charging 6.25 percent for a solo ride and 4.25 percent for shared trips.

Madaro also filed a bill (H 1041) that would charge companies for every so-called “deadhead” ride — a ride-hailing vehicle trip taken with no passenger, contributing to congestion — at Logan International Airport.

From 2017 to 2018, the number of TNC trips increased 25 percent in Massachusetts to more than 81 million a year. The total number of rides grew across the state, but the growth was largely concentrated in the greater Boston urban core.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh testified before the Financial Services Committee on Tuesday in support of another piece of legislation (H 1067/S 102) that would change the TNC fee structure.

The bill Walsh supported, filed by Boston Rep. Michael Moran and Winthrop Sen. Joseph Boncore, would change the TNC fee to be equal to 6.25 percent of the total ride cost for solo trips and 3 percent for shared rides. Half of the money generated from those fees would go to the city or town where the ride originated and the other half would go to the Commonwealth Transportation Fund and MassDevelopment.

Under the bill, TNC drivers who are on the road during peak travel times but do not have a passenger in the car would also be charged 20 cents per mile without a passenger.

“TNC’s should be contributing more to the public good, given the major impact they’re having on our streets. Look at the numbers: 42 million TNC rides started in Boston last year. That’s 115,000 every day. That’s more than one every second. Many of these rides happen during rush hour. And oftentimes, the pick-ups and drop-offs happen in a travel lane, including bus stops, bike lanes, and emergency vehicle areas,” Walsh said. “Increasing the assessment will help us ensure that the positives of this growing industry outweigh the negatives.”

Though the company did not testify in person on Tuesday, Uber said in a statement that it shares the goals of reducing congestion and limited greenhouse gas emissions but does not agree with the ways Walsh and others are seeking to accomplish those goals.

“We support the mayor’s goal of reducing congestion and want to continue to work with the city on innovative pilots like new pickup and dropoff zones,” Uber spokesperson Alix Anfang said in a statement. “However, rideshare vehicles represent a small fraction of cars in Boston and new taxes targeting rideshare customers punish Bostonians who don’t have a car while doing little to invest in much needed improvements to transit.”

Legislators seek to protect Sea Grant

Heard recent chatter of an uptick in local shark activity? Curious why your fishing lines haven’t been twitching recently? When something peculiar happens in the water around us, our questions are usually answered by marine science experts at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution or Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Last week at the State House, Fernandes and Livingstone hosted a presentation by both WHOI and MIT scholars, showcasing recent research findings and valued partnerships within the commonwealth. State legislators noshed on oysters from Wellfleet Oyster Co. to highlight Sea Grant’s impact on local shellfishing industry.

“The Sea Grant program is administered right here in our district by the Woods Hole Oceanographic [Institution], and helps communities across Cape Cod preserve and protect our ocean,” said Fernandes in a press release. Fernandes is a Democrat from Falmouth representing the Cape and Islands. A vocal environmentalist, Fernandes has focused much of his time in office on protecting the natural health of the Cape and Islands.

Massachusetts is one of only two states to have both a college-based program and an institutional program.

“We appreciated the opportunity to highlight Massachusetts Sea Grant programs’ role in sustaining and growing the Blue Economy in the commonwealth,” said Dr. Matt Charette, director of Woods Hole Sea Grant, in the release. “We look forward to partnering with the state in the future on job creation, water quality, coastal resiliency, and sustainable fisheries, as well as providing innovative solutions to the many challenges our coastal communities will face with changing climate.”

Metro-Boston Communities Endorse Cape Bill

    
From MassDivest…

FALMOUTH – Rep. Dylan Fernandes’ bill to allow the 104 independent retirement systems in Massachusetts to divest from the fossil fuel industry (H.3662) has gained the support of two cities in the Metro-Boston region. The city councils of Cambridge and Somerville have passed resolutions calling on the Legislature to pass the Cape bill.

Somerville City Council President Katjana Ballantyne introduced the resolution April 25 and gained unanimous support from the Council. According to Ballantyne, “We all need to get out of these fossil fuel investments before we lose everything. We need to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels before all is lost.”

This development came on the heels of a similar resolution passed in February by the Cambridge City Council.

“I support H.3662 to give cities and towns local control over divesting their retirement funds from fossil fuels,” said Jan Devereux, vice mayor of Cambridge. “Many Cambridge residents, businesses and municipal employees are working hard to reduce their carbon footprints, and it sends a mixed message for the city’s retirement fund to hold investments that are in direct conflict with the goals of our Net Zero Ordinance and action plan.”

MassDivest introduced these resolutions in Somerville and Cambridge.

“With climate risk increasingly threatening the future, it is important for retirement systems to have the option to protect their assets from the decline of the fossil fuel industry,” said Jessica Hanway, of MassDivest.

Fernandes’ bill provides legislative authorization deemed necessary by the Public Employees Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC) via a local option mechanism that allows independent retirement systems to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The bill does not mandate divestment in the way that the Legislature has previously done with regard to tobacco and apartheid South Africa.

“The local option bill would allow fossil fuel divestment to move forward in Massachusetts,” said Randi Mail, legislative director of MassDivest. “Instead of a top-down approach, it would be bottom-up. This bill would empower 104 independent retirement systems at the city and county levels.”

Cambridge and Somerville have long histories of supporting fossil fuel divestment. Somerville has advocated for this move since Mayor Joseph Curtatone called for it in 2014.

“The need for urgency when it comes to cities addressing climate change cannot be understated,” Curtatone said. “Every city and town needs right now — not later — to be taking a close look at their carbon output, setting ambitious carbon reduction goals, and following through. Some of that work will be challenging and complex, but fossil fuel divestment is an impactful and fiscally responsible step we could all easily take right now with the help of Rep. Fernandes’ important bill.”

Fernandes cited this legislation in remarks to the organizers of Harvard University’s recent Heat Week event: “Investing is putting down money now for a long-term future gain, and you can’t name a worse long-term future than one where climate change continues to ravage our cities and towns. That’s why we need to divest from fossil fuels. As a millennial, there is no greater issue that’s going to impact my generation or my children’s generation than that of climate change, global warming and sea level rise. We need to get serious about this, and we need to get serious about it here in Massachusetts, which is why Rep. Jay Livingstone and I filed a bill that allows our 104 independent retirement boards to divest from fossil fuels.”

About MassDivest

MassDivest is a coalition working to divest pension funds in Massachusetts from fossil fuels. They have partnered with Rep. Dylan Fernandes and Rep. Jay Livingstone on H.3662. MassDivest also works with Senator Marc Pacheco, who has introduced S.636, a similar bill in the Senate.

State Unveils Conceptual Plans for Craigie Bridge Bike Lane

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) unveiled conceptual plans for the installation of a bike lane on the Craigie Bridge (a/k/a Charles River Dam Road) at a community meeting on Wednesday, May 1, at the Museum of Science.

MassDOT Highway Engineer Andy Paul outlined the state’s proposal to add dedicated the bike lane from Land Boulevard to Leverett Circle, which would reduce the existing six travel lanes to five.

The 5-foot bike lane and 11-foot travel lanes would be separated by a 1½-foot buffer area with flex-posts and painted markings. In the opposite direction, the travel lanes would measure 10 feet wide.

Bike signals would be installed at Land Boulevard and Museum Way, as would a new left-turn lane to provide access to the Gilmore Bridge, Paul said.

Also, the left-turn lane from Land Boulevard onto Charles River Dam Road would be modified from double-left to a single-left.

At Museum Way, the buffer between the travel and bike lanes would be reduced to a single lane.

Flex-posts would be removed coming over the bridge past the museum towards Leverett Circle while the bike lane would be reduced to 4 feet and travel lanes would be narrowed to 10 feet, Paul said.

A left-turn would also be installed to provide a bike crossing at Martha Road.

Heading towards the museum, the bike lane would measure 6½ feet over the bridge.

The project is scheduled to start next month after ongoing construction on the Gilmore Bridge wraps up, with Phase One entailing the addition of new pavement stripings, signage and flex-posts while the second phase would involve the modification of traffic signals.

The first public meeting on this matter took place at MIT last December, followed by a “Road Safety Audit” the following month, Paul said.

“MassDOT and [the Department of Conservation and Recreation] did a great job of taking feedback from all stakeholders,” State Rep. Jay Livingstone told this reporter. “I think the final product will greatly improve the experience for both bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Legislative Update: Supplemental Budget

Legislative Update

H.3505 – An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2019 to provide for supplementing certain existing appropriations and for certain other activities and projects

On Wednesday, February 28th 2019, the Massachusetts State House of Representatives passed H.3505, a $135 Million supplemental budget. I joined my colleagues in voting affirmatively to pass the measure. The supplemental budget addresses multiple areas including heating assistance, enhanced support for victims of sexual assault, and programs to help those experiencing homelessness. Below are some highlights of what the bill included.


Increased funding for Low Income Heating Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)

Amount: $30 million (+$19 million from Governor’s proposal)

Details: This program ensures that all families in the Commonwealth can afford to keep their heating on through the winter. The additional funding makes up for the Federal funding shortfall.


Increased funding for Emergency Shelter Assistance for people and families experiencing homelessness

Amount: $10,046,612 (level with the Governor’s proposal)

Details: This program helps individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness by increasing the amount of shelter beds to help accommodate the needs of the State.


Increased funding for sexual assault evidence testing kits

Amount: $8,000,000

Details: This program will aid in addressing the backlog of sexual assault kits in the State and ensure that we are on the right path towards bringing justice for victims of sexual violence.


Increased funding for the costs associated with an independent statewide examination of the safety of gas distribution infrastructure

Amount: $1,482,694

Details: These funds will go toward addressing the safety hazard of poorly maintained pipelines. After the disaster that took place in the Merrimack Valley in September, the State is incentivized to take a good look at what can be done to prevent another emergency.


Authorization of Collective Bargaining Agreements

Amount: n/a

Details: The Supplemental Budget included authorization for collective bargaining agreements previously made between employers and trade unions for the following organizations/departments:

  • Massachusetts Department of Transportation and DOT Unit A – National Association of Government Employees, Clerical and Administrative Workers
  • University of Massachusetts and the New England Police Benevolent Protection Organization, Amherst Campus, Unit A07
  • University of Massachusetts and the Maintenance and Trades Unit/MTA/NEA, Lowell Campus, Unit L93
  • University of Massachusetts and Classified and Technical Union, Lowell Campus, Unit L92
  • Sheriff of Bristol County and the National Association of Government Employees, Maintenance Workers, Unit C
  • Sheriff of Worcester county and the New England Police Benevolent Association, Local 550, Unit SW6
  • Sheriff of Hampden County and the National Correctional Employees Union Mental Health Staff Unit, Local 131, Unit SH1