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Mass. Residents Want More Commuter Rail Service And Lower Fares, Poll Finds 

A MBTA commuter rail train rolls slowly toward North Station in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A MBTA commuter rail train rolls slowly toward North Station in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts residents want a lot more commuter rail service, including more frequent trains and expanded service throughout the state, according to a new MassINC poll (topline resultscrosstabs).

The poll found 76% of residents support moving the commuter rail toward a "regional rail" system. In this type of system, there would be trains every 15 to 30 minutes, day and night and on weekends, so people could use the commuter rail for more than just riding to and from work.

More than two-thirds of residents also want the commuter rail extended to western Massachusetts, the South Coast — including Fall River and New Bedford — and to southern New Hampshire. And 81% of poll respondents want the long-discussed North-South rail link, which would connect North and South stations in Boston.

"Residents think that the rail system in Massachusetts as it's currently constructed could do more and that there's space for rail to go to more places than it does now," said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group.

(Courtesy MassINC Polling Group)
(Courtesy MassINC Polling Group)

Some projects, like the South Coast rail expansion, have already started to move forward. A strong majority of residents — 84% — also want to see commuter rail trains switched over from diesel engines to electric power, which is something the MBTA is exploring for some parts of the system.

According to Koczela, residents see the commuter rail as part of the solution to many of the region's transportation problems. The poll found large majorities of residents believe regional rail would decrease traffic congestion, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and spread jobs and development to more communities outside of Boston.

But while residents want more rail development, they don't support many measures to pay for it.

According to the poll, most residents don't support raising the gas tax, charging drivers a fee to drive into Boston during rush hour, increasing parking fees at commuter rail stations, or increasing commuter rail fares. The poll found a majority of residents do support the so-called "millionaire's tax" — a surtax on income over $1 million — and collecting contributions from developers who build near rail stations.

In terms of fares, the poll found most residents want lower commuter rail fares and discounted fares for low-income riders and people who travel at off-peak times. These findings follow a recent MassINC study, which found that residents in gateway cities and low-income riders are priced out of the public transit system. That report also recommended a restructuring of commuter rail fares.

The new MassINC poll also found strong support from residents across the state for "transit-oriented" development in gateway cities, which would bring a mix of housing, office space, dining and retail near train stations in those communities. Two-thirds of respondents said they would support state-funded incentives to cities and developers for such projects, according to the poll.

The MBTA is currently studying a number of fare changes through a "means-tested fares feasibility" study (expected in December) and a commuter rail zone study (expected in March 2020). The transit agency is also looking at ways to transform the commuter rail through its "Rail Vision" initiative.

MassINC's poll is based on an online survey of 1,430 Massachusetts registered voters, including an oversample of residents from 16 of the state's gateway cities.

Related:

Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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