Poll: We’re eager for options on getting around

With gas prices ballooning and MBTA service frequency now in a phased retreat amid a federal safety probe, it’s no wonder that people in our state are looking for alternatives for moving around Massachusetts. A new poll released on Tuesday by The MassINC Polling Group and sponsored by the Barr Foundation underscores the growing demand for new, more affordable options, including rebates for electric bikes and cars.

“We wanted to ask about several ideas that are being considered at various levels of government right now, and we found that residents are broadly supportive of them,” said Richard Parr, research director at The MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey. “At a time when concerns about gas prices and other costs are on the rise, these policies would help residents afford alternatives to driving gas powered-cars.” 
Among the poll’s findings: A large and growing share of the 1,002 people surveyed— 78 percent— favor making bus lines totally free to ride. An even larger percentage— 84— say we should at least discount fares for lower-income residents.

That’s encouraging news for the Wu administration, which has championed those ideas and also launched free-bus pilots in parts of Boston— including the Route 28 bus along Blue Hill Avenue and the 23 from Ruggles to Ashmont— earlier this year.

The poll— which was conducted June 8-12— also indicates broad support for expanded tax deductions for commuter costs, such as Boston’s BlueBikes program, which is not currently eligible for write-offs. About 70 percent of those polled say that should change.

Even more people— 75 percent— say T riders should be able to deduct per ride fares, not just monthly or weekly passes. That would be a sensible change to state law, given that this same survey finds that almost half of the workforce— 47 percent— are in a hybrid mode, working from home “at least a few days a week.” A much larger group—72 percent in this survey— say they would want to exercise a hybrid option going forward.

There’s clearly overwhelming support for policies geared towards expanding electric-powered vehicles, bikes, and trains, an important transition that could have major impacts along the Fairmount Line in Dorchester and Mattapan.

According to the MassInc pollsters, 73 percent of people surveyed this month support electrifying the commuter rail system— something that lawmakers and transit advocates have been calling for along the Fairmount in recent years. Such a switch— from the current diesel system to electric— would transform the line into more of a rapid, subway-like branch like the Red Line.

And, speaking of things that run on tracks, a significant portion— about one-third— say that Massachusetts is moving in “the wrong direction.” That said, almost half of us disagree. Despite all the anxieties of inflation, transit woes and ongoing stresses from the pandemic, about 47 percent say the state is on the right track.

It’s fair to point out that this poll was conducted before last week’s news that the MBTA would have to slash train frequency this summer, the result of a scathing Federal Transit Administration report. Still, the survey suggests that the public is primed and ready for some aggressive action from state government to subsidize public transit and offer new ways to make personalized options like e-bikes more cost-friendly.

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