Sunday, January 25, 2015, 3:00am
Developers Investing In Alternative Commuting Options
Transit Shuttles To Suburbs Expanding In 2015
By Jay Fitzgerald
Special To Banker & Tradesman
Transit Shuttles To Suburbs Expanding In 2015
Commercial developers and major employers in the suburbs have a lot on their minds headed into 2015.
Among their top concerns is transportation.
Specifically: How do suburban office park owners and major employers attract talented workers who increasingly want to live and work in urban areas and increasingly eschew owning cars?
One of the strategies is creating new “transportation management associations,” usually public-private partnerships that provide bus shuttles, car-pooling programs, emergency work-to-home rides and an array of other transportation services for employees. They’re all designed to make it easier to recruit and retain top workers at companies in the suburbs.
The TMAs, as they’re called, fill in transit gaps not covered by the MBTA and the state’s highway system.
In recent months, three new TMAs have formed in eastern Massachusetts, adding to the already existing 11 TMAs that literally provide hundreds of thousands of rides per year, often shuttling workers in “reverse commutes” from the immediate Boston area to outer suburbs.
The three new associations are: Middlesex 3 TMA (serving nine communities in the Route 3 area, centered around Burlington), the Crosstown Connect TMA (serving Acton, Boxborough, Littleton, Maynard and Westford), and the Alewife TMA, which serves the Cambridge market. All three operate shuttles originally started by major employers to meet the demands of their employees
But 2015 is viewed as the year all three TMAs will aggressively start to push to establish and expand their service footprints, recruiting additional employers to join the associations and increase the number of riders.
“It’s all about talent,” said Robert Buckley, a senior partner at Riemer & Braunstein LLP who has been heavily involved in organizing the new Middlesex 3 TMA. “How do you get workers out to the (suburbs)? That’s what it’s all about.”
In the case of the Middlesex 3 TMA, it started out two and a half years ago as the Middlesex 3 Coalition organized by nine communities: Bedford, Billerica, Burlington, Chelmsford, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford. The goal was to improve the business climate and services available in the Route 3 north region.
Stephanie J. Cronin, executive director of the Middlesex 3 Coalition, said the group quickly realized a top concern was transportation needs. So they organized into a TMA with the help of some state grant funds.
E Ink of Billerica and Mitre Corp. of Bedford had already jointly started a shuttle service for a combined 50 employees, transporting workers from Boston to the two companies outside Route 128. That shuttle service has since been folded into the Middlesex 3 TMA, which was formed in November. Officials are now recruiting additional member companies.
Demand Expected To Increase
At a recent meeting in Burlington, local business leaders and politicians met to get an overview presentation about Middlesex 3 TMA – and they were effectively pitched on why they should join or support it. Annual membership fees range from a high of $7,500 for a firm with 1,000 or more employees to $800 for smaller companies with 250 or fewer employees.
One company thinking of joining is the Gutierrez Company, a commercial real estate company that owns more than 2 million square feet of office space in the area covered by the Middlesex 3 TMA.
“It’s a great addition to the Middlesex and Route 3 market,” said Scott Weiss, managing director of commercial development at Gutierrez.
Weiss said his company, with its extensive property holdings, has a vested interesting it making sure its tenants can recruit and retain highly qualified employees – and transportation is a key element of that goal. “I absolutely expect the demand (for Middlesex 3 services) to increase,” he said.
Michele Brooks is a senior associate at TransAction Associates, a Woburn consulting company that helps municipalities and companies establish and run TMAs and similar services. She presented an overview of Middlesex 3’s services at the recent meeting in Burlington.
Brooks noted that the two other recently organized TMAs – Crosstown Connect and Alewife TMA –all serve a critical need of transporting people to sometimes hard-to-get-to places.
And it’s not just employers transporting workers that benefit from the shuttles. The Crosstown Connect TMA also helps senior citizens get around the suburbs, she noted.
“There is no real strict definition of what a TNA is,” she said. “It all depends on the needs of (members). TMAs are a very viable alternative for many employers and municipalities."
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