No free option to address transportation crisis

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PITTSFIELD — Transportation in the Berkshires is in crisis.

It's a crisis that unfolds daily, and is most deeply felt by people who depend on our sporadic, limited public transportation to get to work, school, and medical appointments.

It's a health crisis. Inadequate transportation contributes to preventable disease.

It's a climate crisis, because the region is vulnerable to the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, of which motor vehicles are the largest source.

It's a budget crisis, where local governments must triage a long list of road or bridge repairs, because the state funds just a fraction of the need, and other priorities have first claim on local tax dollars.

The reality is that at this time of innovation and opportunity for some in our Commonwealth, the transportation crisis is leaving others behind.

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The Rural Policy Plan, released in October by the Massachusetts Rural Policy Commission, cites Berkshire County as having the highest share of income spent on transportation and housing, and recommends that Massachusetts redesign and adequately fund rural public transportation.

Meanwhile, the landmark 2018 report of the Commission on the Future of Transportation acknowledges rural challenges, with a recommendation to "provide better mobility options in rural communities through reimagined public transportation, community transportation services, and public/private partnerships."

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But the resources to deliver them are missing.

The legislature is now set to debate transportation funding essential to our region. This is not a time to shrink from what's needed. It's a moment to step forward with confidence and purpose.

Our RTA must be funded to provide fuller, more regular service countywide, and it must be reformed to be truly accountable to riders, with innovative, affordable ride-sharing services that so many of our neighbors so urgently need.

Our towns and cities must receive full funding to repair and rebuild roads and bridges. For environmental reasons we need to invest in transportation electrification. But that also takes money.

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If we care about our economic future, if we value the dignity and health of our residents, then we must have better transportation.

Will this have a price tag? Yes.

To pay for some of these needs, legislators should look to the gas tax, which has gone up just 14 percent in 30 years. To mitigate the impact of that on working families, the Legislature can increase the Earned Income Tax Credit. And to ensure that new revenues flow to Berkshire communities, the state must increase Chapter 90 funding, which goes directly to cities and towns.

This transportation crisis already costs us dearly. There's no free option to address Berkshire County's transportation challenges. We need statewide legislative leadership now to embrace our challenges and make our transportation crisis history.

Wendy Krom is lead organizer of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing.


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