Marlborough – At a June 20 community forum about the future of public transportation in Marlborough, residents expressed their concerns over how public transportation would improve if the city joined the new Metrowest Regional Transit Authority (RTA). The forum was sponsored by Marlborough Community Development Corporation.
City officials told the audience of about 40 people they thought Marlborough would benefit from being a part of the Metrowest RTA.
The Metrowest RTA was created by a law sponsored by State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. When it launches Sunday July 1, it will allow member towns the option to use money formerly given to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) for transportation costs within their own borders.
City Councilor Paul Ferro said Marlborough pays the MBTA $230,000 a year because it abuts Southborough, which has a commuter rail station. Of that money, Ferro said only $54,000 is spent locally.
"So we just give [the MBTA] $184,000," Ferro said. "We could be spending it regionally."
Ferro said residents should think about where they want the money they spend on the MBTA to go.
"I don't see a T line [in Marlborough]," Ferro said. "You're all paying that, so where do you want to spend it?"
Marlborough is currently a member of the Worcester RTA, but can drop that membership to join the Metrowest RTA. Ferro said he thought Marlborough would benefit more from being in the Metrowest RTA.
"Do we integrate better with Worcester or Framingham?" Ferro said. "There is a lot of benefit in being with Framingham, but it's very early in the game."
The city offers three public transportation buses and vans: Assabet Valley Council on Aging, which is run by the Worcester RTA and serves senior citizens by appointment; the LIFT, which runs from the Solomon Pond Mall to the Framingham commuter rail station; and the Local Connection, a curb-tocurb service for Marlborough, Southborough and Westborough, also run by the Worcester RTA.
Ed Carr, the Metrowest RTA administrator, told residents none of the current public transportation services they use would be affected when the Metrowest RTA takes over, starting with the LIFT July 1.
Carr said the buses wouldn't even get repainted.
"There will be no change to the LIFT; it will still look like the LIFT," Carr said.
Responding to concerns about how often the buses break down, Carr said he couldn't promise better service.
"The new authority will work to make it better, but there will be no loss of service," he said.
Bryan Taberner, who manages the LIFT system, said the old buses will be replaced with new ones in a few months once the new fiscal year begins.
John Stasik, a Framingham selectman and the town's representative to the Metrowest RTA board, said Ashland, Natick, Wayland, Hopkinton, Holliston and Framingham have already committed to being a part of the new RTA. Stasik said the board is still waiting for Sudbury, Southborough and Marlborough. Stasik said Marlborough is the most important community that could be a part of the Metrowest RTA.
"Marlborough is the kingpin in the Metrowest," Stasik said. "We could have this done without Marlborough, but I'd much rather do it with them."
Stasik said communities don't usually see such a good deal from the state.
"The real coup is … there is no new money involved," Stasik said. "We can get better services without paying more money."
While there is no deadline to join the new transit authority, Stasik said the sooner Marlborough joins the better.
"The longer they wait, the more the system gets developed without Marlborough's input," Stasik said.
He said the other communities would be able to get bus routes in desirable locations, which Marlborough would miss out on if they don't act quickly.
Councilor at-Large Steven Levy said in order to join, the city can put the question on the ballot in November, or the state legislature can act to allow the City Council to make the decision.