We were enthusiastic to read through the new report commissioned by Boston City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu about public transit in Boston. Compiled by Lily T. Ko, a Tufts University Graduate Policy Fellow studying urban and environmental policy and planning, the Boston Youth Transportation Project was assisted by young interns, and built on input from directors and coordinators from youth programs all around the region. Since Ko’s report takes so many voices into consideration that are typically ignored on this topic, we decided to publish her executive summary in full, and we recommend checking out the full report at michelleforboston.com. -Dig Editors
The Boston Youth Transportation Project (BYTP) examined the transportation experiences of Boston teenaged youth. BYTP researched whether Boston youth face any barriers to transportation and what attitudes they held toward different transportation modes. The project was motivated for two main reasons: 1) to examine whether transportation challenges are affecting the socioeconomic mobility potential of youth, and 2) to gauge youth’s affinity toward biking and public transit in support of the City of Boston’s climate change goals. In total, 264 youth took a survey and 240 of them also participated in one of 23 focus group sessions.
While the City of Boston and MBTA provide substantial transportation benefits to Boston youth, there are still thousands of young people locked out of these benefits and who may face financial barriers to transportation. Youth face inequities across the system as to who receives transportation benefits due to distance from school, participation in summer programs they join, employment, their individual school policies, and/or attending school outside of Boston through METCO. This results in missed opportunities related to education, employment, personal development, and social life that contribute to an ever widening education and social gap.
Beyond affordability, transit dependability is another vital enabler for Boston students to truly take full advantage of their opportunities. Youth travel all over and outside the city in order to attend higher quality schools not offered in their own neighborhoods due to historic and persistent racial segregation. Unfortunately, the unreliability of public transit service results in academic ramifications and adverse effects on youth’s health, jobs, parent relationships, and most importantly—youth autonomy.
Safety is another key element. Most Boston youth reported feeling unsafe on public transit, especially around people under the influence of drugs and alcohol. This affects youth behavior and prevents them from getting where they need to go. At the same time, public transit helps youth feel safer in areas where they would otherwise have to walk. Unfortunately, transit unreliability meant that safety wasn’t always guaranteed.
In regards to affinity for various transportation modes, the car dominated all ratings and the vast majority of teens strongly preferred to get around the city by car or transportation network company (i.e., Uber or Lyft). These preferences have dire implications for our environment, but there are indications that their preferences are malleable and that there are changes that would get increase youth biking or transit usage. Among their suggestions are a drastically safer bicycle network and more reliable service as well as better amenities that make public transit a more competitive mode. The suggestions in this report largely come directly from Boston youth and mark a clear path for improving the quality of life for young people in Boston today and removing impediments to their future success.
The Boston Youth Transportation Project (BYTP) was motivated for two main reasons:
First, geographic mobility has been shown to be strongly linked with economic mobility. More opportunities for jobs, higher income, education, reasonably-priced food and goods, quality housing and healthcare depends upon efficient and affordable transportation. Thus, for a 1 2 3 4 5 socially-just society, it is vitally important that public transit services are reliable, efficient and accessible.
Unfortunately, existing research demonstrates that people’s access to high-quality transportation options as well as the degree to which these options provide timely and convenient access to civic, social, educational, and recreational opportunities vary across race and income lines. Public transit is also disproportionately relied upon by communities of color 6 and lower-income households, and existing research demonstrates that their access to 7 high-quality transportation options and reliable services are worse than for White, higher-income communities.
Furthermore, transit policy has historically focused on expansion through suburban systems—serving White and wealthier constituents more reliably than those living in inner cities—and leaving comparatively fewer resources for improving transit service in low-income areas with a higher proportion of transit dependents. Bus service tends to be more 8 relied upon by low-income, communities of color—but has suffered continual disinvestment.9
While it’s critical to look at adult commuters and their opportunities to access jobs and other resources, it is just as important to investigate youth experiences. The City of Boston has an abundance of economic and out-of-school enrichment opportunities for its young people, including the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program; copious museums, libraries, and community centers; as well as numerous events and youth-centered programming sponsored by local universities and private organizations. However, Boston youth must be able to easily get around the city in order to access opportunities like these.
Second, transportation is one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EPA reported that transportation accounted for the largest portion (28%) of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2016, with light-duty vehicles contributing to 60% of it.
The City of Boston also 10 reported that transportation emissions contribute significantly to pollution in Boston today and that transportation makes up somewhere between a quarter to a third of its GHG emissions.11 Because of this, the City aims to reduce GHG emissions from transportation by 50% of 2005 levels by 2030.
Currently, the majority of teenaged youth are still captive transit riders and 12 have relatively fewer transportation mode choices. However, they will soon be our next generation of potential daily drivers. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand how youth view different modes of transportation, whether they are inclined to use more sustainable modes of transportation (like public transit and biking), and what would make them more excited to use these modes of transportation.