Getting around in Winthrop is getting better, thanks to the new Complete Streets policy passed by the Town Council in March and new MBTA bus contract rolled out in June. The Transportation Advisory Committee – formed this past October – would like to make sure that our fellow citizens understand what these improvements mean for our quality of life here in Winthrop and how you can get involved to help shape them.
First, our new Complete Streets policy sets forth a new approach to designing streets and intersections so that people traveling by all modes of transportation are accommodated safely. That is, it guides us to an understanding that our streets are not just runways for cars, but public spaces for all to access for transportation, social interaction, physical activity, and even fun. As stated on the Town’s Website, “a Complete Street describes a public right of way that provides safe and accessible options for people of all ages and abilities and all modes of travel, including walking, bicycling, driving, and public transit…Complete Streets are designed with all users in mind, and they make non-motorized transportation more convenient, more attractive, and safer.”
But Complete Streets are more than bike lanes and better sidewalks. They are opportunities to show through our infrastructure that we are a community that values transportation choices and safety for all; that we prioritize healthy lifestyles and environmental sustainability, and that we want all people using our streets to feel valued, whether they are traveling by car, bike, foot, bus, scooter or wheelchair.
Winthrop residents currently have an opportunity to influence the Town’s Complete Streets policy by logging their ideas for street/intersection improvements in the new online Wikimap. The results of this Wiki tool will inform the Prioritization Plan that will allow Winthrop to apply for funding from MassDOT to implement the improvements. If you travel around Winthrop- by any means- please take a moment to log any dangerous spots and/or opportunities for improvements on the Wikimap at http://tinyurl.com/winthropwikimap
Second, let’s talk about the new buses. As most have noticed by now, we have a brand new fleet of MBTA buses serving our community from Orient Heights and this has come with many new benefits. Namely, the buses are quiet, clean, and equipped with GPS locators that allow riders to track their location and arrival information in real time. No more standing around wondering when the old blue-and-white bus is going to show up. You can download any of the free transit apps (like Transit BOS, Moovit, or OpenMBTA) to do what the rest of the Boston region has been doing for years, which is being able to see exactly where the next bus is and when it will arrive at your location.
Where the new buses fall short is in their fare technology, at least for now, as Charlie Cards are not currently accepted as a form of payment. The reason for this is that the MBTA is currently in the midst of overhauling the Charlie Card system and moving towards a new, automated fare technology called “AFC 2.0” (Automated Fare Collection 2.0). Because AFC 2.0 will render the Charlie Card readers obsolete, the T did not want to install them on the new Winthrop buses. Unfortunately, the result of this is that we are being served with top of the line buses that only accept cash or paper tickets (like the monthly Link Pass or Zone 1A pass), and it will likely be another two years before AFC 2.0 is implemented. While this issue is not new to Winthrop (the old Paul Revere buses did not accept Charlie Cards either), it does add a new layer of confusion and frustration because the new buses now match the brand and appearance of the rest of the MBTA system (which is great for putting Winthrop on the map!) but do not accept the same method of payment.
The Transportation Committee is working closely with the MBTA to devise a solution to this fare non-compliance issue because we realize it presents an unfair burden on Winthrop residents. Notwithstanding the inconvenience of having to dig up cash or purchase a separate ticket that is currently not available for purchase in our town, many commuters (including students and the disabled) are forced to pay an extra fare on top of the monthly Charlie Card pass that they, or that their employers/schools, are already purchasing. This, combined with the confusion (particularly for visitors) of hopping off the T at Orient Heights and not being able receive the free bus transfer (that you already pay for), is unacceptable and we are committed to finding a solution. Some of the options being discussed include hand held Charlie Card readers for bus drivers, onsite transfer machines at Orient Heights, resident sticker programs, and Link Pass vending machines at established locations throughout Winthrop.
We are grateful to the MBTA for prioritizing Winthrop to receive these brand new hybrid electric-buses and to be the first in line to pilot the new AFC 2.0 fare technology. The new buses, still operated by Paul Revere drivers, have provided a great improvement in level of transit service in Winthrop, and we look forward to exploring new/altered routes and creating proper signage and facilities at all stops.
Please feel free to contact us through the Town Manager’s office with any questions or ideas to share about transportation improvements you would like to see in Winthrop.
The Winthrop Transportation Advisory Committee:
Julia Wallerce, Chair
Stephen Hines, Secretary