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The Mass Media

Rideshare? Why Not?

Rideshare Program at UMass Boston ?

In 1995, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sent a certified letter to the University of Massachusetts Boston, implementing a statewide air quality regulation, as required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Legislature and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The letter required by March of 1996 all educational institutions with 1,000 or more students and employees combined to execute trip reduction incentives that are designed to reduce the number of employee/student drive-alone commute trips to a facility site by 25%. This is known as DEP Regulations “310 C.M.R. 7.16 Reduction of Single Occupant Commuter Vehicle Use.” Robert Hendry, the Rideshare Coordinator at UMass Amherst, provided an understanding of how his University handles this State regulation. He directed us to a website he put together for the University. Mr. Hendry developed the UMass Amherst Rideshare Program two years ago after graduating with a Masters Degree from that University. The Program includes such items as a reduced price for a campus parking permit, preferential parking places, guaranteed rides home in emergency situations and other benefits. It also includes a Carpool Matching Service. Mr. Hendry was also instrumental in having UMass Amherst lead the way in forming a Route 9 Transportation Management Association within the community. In addition to UMass Amherst’s affiliation, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, the City of Northampton, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Town of Hadley, the Amherst Chamber of Commerce have also joined this association. This non-profit organization also has two other colleges as members – Smith College and Amherst College. UMass Boston could follow the lead of Amherst, comply with state law and reduce air pollution by simply putting together a similar program. The DEP also sent us a copy of the Rideshare Regulation specifically written for Educational Facilities, which provides information as to who is subject to it, who must comply, and what the Educational Facility needs to do to implement, promote, evaluate and maintain a Rideshare Program. Also included is a packet of information providing a resource guide and the annual forms needed to be completed as well as incentives. DEP also provided a list of employers throughout the Commonwealth who comply with the Regulation. Documents obtained thought the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a request to inspect public records pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 66, 10, from the DEP clearly show a long and sustained rebuff of the law governing this important program by UMass Boston, telephone logs, and copies of official correspondence to the highest official in the University Administration which have been ignored. It is unfortunate that UMass Boston does not have a Rideshare Program because many students, faculty and other workers cannot ride the MBTA due to the inadequate services near their home locations. By not having a Program in place, they have no alternative but to park in the garage where the rates are expected to increase from $3.50/day to $7/day, possibly by January 2002. However, it is not too difficult to believe that it would possibly be too high a price for clean air in Boston from UMass Boston’s perspective given any one of the following reasons: (a) in FY2000 the gross revenue for parking was $2,628,114, (b) some 750, 900 cars may have used the parking garage that year based on $3.50 per car, or (c) the 25% reduction required by the Clean Air Regulation could cost the University $ 657,036. Despite claims by UMass officials that the shuttle bus fulfills all state requirements, the DEP Regional Planner , in Boston stated, “Shuttle bus service alone does not constitute full compliance with the Rideshare Program regulation.” The DEP has sent certified mail two times requesting that the University of Massachusetts-Boston Campus comply with the state regulation by filing required reports and developing the mandated program. In fact, the DEP in its latest letter of August of 2000 has threatened enforcement action against the University if it continues to fail to comply with state regulation. We visited the Auxiliary Services Office at UMass Boston and met with Forrest Speck, UMass Director of Facilities and George McDonough, Manager of Transportation. Speck said, “the department has no immediate plans of putting together a Rideshare Program”, and “we tried that car pool stuff in the 70’s, it didn’t work”. Speck emphasized the expansion plan of the MBTA as the fix for student and staff commuter problems; however the project will not be completed for twenty years. Speck agreed to provide an outdated multi-page summary of the home zip code for students, faculty and staff workers. It included a copy of a letter dated August 8, 1994 written to Mr. Yorum Shiftan, of Cambridge Systematics from Mr. Speck. The letter provided Cambridge Systematics, a Cambridge base think-tank working on transportation issues around the country, with a copy of a “Clean State” Commuter survey that was given to students, facility and staff workers in 1994. The survey appeared to the student investigators as an early attempt to comply with the Commonwealth’s new clear air regulation. Although this cannot be confirmed in the documents received from Speck, further requests for documents under the FOIA were rejected in a letter by Arthur Bernard, Associate Counsel, who represented the University of Massachusetts. In his letter dated November 9 2001, Attorney Bernard claimed the University “has not located any documents responsive to … request”. Also in the documents provided by Speck was a geographic distribution of students, facility and staff workers shown in both a table format and two charts. The distribution of data indicates most of the commuters live in the Boston Metro Area followed secondly in the South of Boston. It appears that nothing became of this collection of data even though eight years have passed. It is sad that an institution such as the University of Massachusetts in Boston has ignored government officials who are mandated by law to protect the quality of the air we breathe. It would be sadder if it were only an issue of money.Camille Presti & David Leonardi References:http://www.state.ma.us/dep/energy/310cmr7.pdfhttp://www-parking.admin.umass.edu/rideshare http://www-parking.admin.umass.edu/tmahttp://www.camsys.com/http://home.capecod.net/~dleon/