DATE: February 3, 2022
TO: Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization
FROM: Michelle Scott, MPO Staff
RE: Transit Working Group Pilot Findings
In 2020 and 2021, Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) staff conducted a pilot of a transit working group to provide a forum for coordination among transit providers in the Boston region and to inform the MPO’s planning and decision making on matters related to transit. This memorandum provides background information about the MPO’s Transit Working Group (TWG) and describes participation in TWG events, feedback collected about the group, and lessons staff learned while conducting the pilot. It also discusses proposed plans for the TWG going forward, as MPO staff, MPO members, and TWG participants have found the group to be a valuable way to engage transit stakeholders and see its continued potential to help improve transit service in the Boston region.
The Boston Region MPO endorsed a pilot of a transit working group in November 2019, following a series of discussions with the MPO board and outreach to transit providers and the public. The idea for the group emerged from discussions about whether and how to represent the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA) and the Cape Ann Transportation Authority (CATA) on the MPO board, and about the need for improved coordination between the numerous transit providers operating in the Boston region. For more details about the history of the TWG pilot, please see the November 2019 memorandum titled “MPO Transit Committee Outreach Results and Staff Recommendations.”1
When proposing a pilot transit working group to MPO board members in November 2019, staff noted that such a group may be advantageous to the MPO for several reasons beyond possible transit provider representation on the MPO board:
MPO staff proposed conducting the group in a pilot format at first. During this initial period, staff would explore how the group might function, who would attend its meetings, and what it could accomplish in terms of generating feedback for MPO consideration and advancing action on other topics of interest to participants.
Both the MPO and transit working group participants would learn about the value the group could generate and how the group could be structured to maximize its benefits. The proposed mission of a pilot transit working group was to
Staff sought to involve a core group of participants made up of transit operators and transit supporting agencies, including the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), regional transit authorities (RTAs), municipalities that operate transit service, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), and the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport). MPO staff anticipated that other organizations working in the transit space would be interested in participating in these meetings, which were open to the public. These additional groups include
Staff proposed that TWG meetings include a mix of the following activities:
When conducting initial outreach about creating a transit working group in the summer of 2019, MPO staff found that there did not appear to be a strong demand for representation on the MPO board from potential participants besides MWRTA and CATA. Other transit providers seemed to be more interested in opportunities for coordination relative to opportunities to provide input on MPO decisions. MPO staff proposed adopting a flexible structure for the TWG during the pilot phase and to monitor whether demand for board representation increased among participants during that time. This information could inform decisions about whether to formalize the group’s structure and membership or to keep the group focused on coordination and maintain a flexible structure to encourage diverse participation.
MPO staff have hosted six general TWG meetings—approximately once per quarter—since January 2020. The next one is scheduled in February 2022 (as of the writing of this memo). Staff sent out notices about these meetings through the MPO’s general email distribution list, posted notices on the MPO’s social media channels, and announced them at MPO board meetings. MPO staff have also emailed event invitations to a TWG-specific email list. Information about TWG events is also available on the MPO’s Transit Working Group webpage, along with past meeting materials and general information about the group.
The first TWG meeting in January 2020 focused on a general overview of MPO activities and background about the Transit Working Group and topics the group could discuss at future meetings. This meeting was held in the State Transportation Building in Boston and was attended by representatives of transit providers and transit-supporting agencies, advocacy groups, and members of the public. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, all TWG events have been held virtually over Zoom. TWG meetings held since this time have typically included a main presentation on a transit-related topic from a guest speaker. Speakers have included MBTA staff discussing pandemic response plans and regional rail improvements, a transit executive from central Pennsylvania discussing regionalization efforts, and a transportation consultant discussing federal infrastructure legislation. In addition to these main presentations, TWG meetings have featured shorter presentations about technical assistance, funding opportunities, study products, or resources provided by the MPO or other organizations in the Boston region. Appendix 1 provides details on TWG MPO meeting topics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the TWG in terms of the format of the meetings and the topics discussed. The impacts that the pandemic has had on the transit industry—such as decreased ridership, workforce availability, and the need to implement new public health measures—shaped MPO staff’s decisions about meeting topics. MBTA staff presented at two TWG meetings in 2020: first to share information about their pandemic response planning and service modifications, and later to discuss their Forging Ahead planning process. The group also served as a venue to notify transit providers and others about resources to address pandemic-related needs and issues. In 2020, MPO staff presented about the availability of COVID-19 transit planning technical assistance, and MAPC staff provided information in November 2020 and June 2021 about the Taxicab, Livery, and Hackney Transportation Partnership Grants Program, a program that was initially created to support the taxi industry while meeting essential trip needs.
Attendance at TWG meetings was higher than staff’s expectations prior to the pandemic, likely because people could participate remotely using Zoom. (Section 3 and Appendix 2 provide more information about participation in TWG events.) The shift to virtual meetings may have also increased the diversity of participants and made it easier for transit providers outside of the Boston region’s Inner Core to attend. One challenge staff faced, given both virtual meetings and higher than expected attendance, was that it was difficult to create space where transit providers could connect and converse with one another. MPO staff found that while people could get information and engage speakers in question-and-answer sessions, agenda items meant to support open discussion did not generate much conversation, a pattern staff has also noted at other online events not hosted by the MPO.
To address this issue, in May 2021 MPO staff organized a test round of Transit Working group “coffee chats.” These are hour-long open-conversation sessions where MPO staff provide facilitation questions to help attendees discuss a specific transit-related topic. Several coffee chats were invitation-only or restricted to transit providers and supporting agencies while other chats were open to anyone. These sessions were initially capped at approximately 15 to 20 attendees; transit providers were given priority for spots, but people from advocacy organizations or members of the public could also participate if space was available. MPO staff found that these coffee chats were successful in generating conversation and information exchange among participants and have held additional sessions starting in October 2021. Coffee chat discussion topics have ranged from microtransit to driver shortages to medical and human service transportation concerns. Appendix 1 lists Transit Working group coffee chat topics through December 1, 2021.
Between January 2020 and November 2021, 232 people participated in one or more TWG meetings or coffee chats. Figure 1 classifies these people by affiliation type. Attendees from municipalities made up approximately 19 percent of total TWG participants. When combined, attendees from the MBTA, RTAs, TMAs, and human service transportation organizations made up approximately 31 percent of Transit Working Group participants.
Transit Working Group Participants by Affiliation Type
Notes: The “Other Government” group includes people representing federal, county, or regional agencies, the Massachusetts state legislature, and Massachusetts agencies besides the MassDOT or the MBTA. The “Other group” includes people representing private sector consulting organizations, organizations outside of Massachusetts, and other groups not reflected by the other categories.
MBTA = Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. MassDOT = Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Source: Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization Staff.
Figure 2 categorizes participants by the number of events they attended. Approximately 57 percent of TWG participants attended one meeting or coffee chat. Another 19 percent attended two events, and the remaining 24 percent attended three or more events. Table 2-1 in Appendix 2 to this memorandum categorizes participants by affiliation category and number of events attended. MPO staff analyzed who attended three or more TWG events to identify the group’s most frequent participants. Of the people that participated in three or more TWG events, approximately 27 percent were from RTAs or TMAs, 21 percent were from municipalities, and 14 percent were from advocacy organizations or advisory groups.
Number of Events Attended by Transit Working Group Participants
Source: Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization Staff.
Figure 3 provides information about registrations for and attendance at general TWG meetings held between January 2020 and October 2021. Attendance at TWG meetings has ranged from 32 people in January 2020 (an in-person event) to 87 people in March 2021. Once TWG meetings shifted to a Zoom format starting in July 2020, MPO staff tracked registrations in addition to attendance to gauge broader interest in the TWG, including interest in accessing meeting recordings, notes, and resources. (MPO staff have generally required online registrations for TWG events held over Zoom.) Table 2-2 in Appendix 2 to this memorandum shows information about event registrants and attendees by affiliation category.
Attendance and Registrations at Transit Working Group Meetings
*The January 30, 2020, meeting was held in person. While RSVP’s were requested, no advance registration was required.
Source: Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization Staff.
Figure 4 provides information about registrations for and attendance at general Transit Working Group coffee chats, which were held in May, June, October, and November 2021. As previously mentioned, some coffee chats were invitation only, attendance at open coffee chats was typically capped, and registrants were not always able to participate depending on space availability. As with the general Transit Working Group meetings, MPO staff also tracked registrations to gather broader interest in these events. Tables 2-3 and 2-4 in Appendix 2 to this memorandum shows information about coffee chat registrants and attendees by affiliation category.
Attendance and Registrations at Transit Working Group Coffee Chats
a This coffee chat was invitation-only.
b Advance registrations were not required for this coffee chat.
c Participation in this coffee chat was restricted to transit providers and supporting agencies. MPO staff reviewed registrants against this criterion before admitting participants.
MBTA = Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Source: Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization Staff.
MPO staff have collected feedback about the TWG from participants in two main ways: through post-event surveys and through a focus group and survey about the pilot in general. Post-event surveys were made available to people who participated in TWG meetings or coffee chats. These surveys focused specifically on what people liked or would improve about that specific event and whether they would participate in TWG or other MPO-hosted events in the future. Seventeen people completed post-event surveys following general TWG meetings or coffee chats during 2020 and 2021.
To collect feedback about the general progress of the pilot, MPO staff held a virtual focus group in September 2021. Staff invited transit providers, agency representatives, and MPO board members who had attended TWG meetings or had been involved in MPO staff’s outreach collection process in June 2019 to attend. Appendix 3 includes the list of discussion questions prepared for discussion at the September 2021 focus group, which staff also incorporated into an online survey format for invitees who could not attend the scheduled meeting or who wanted to provide additional feedback in writing. These questions addressed whether the TWG has helped providers to better coordinate with one another; whether they better understand or are more inclined to engage with the MPO; or what suggestions they have for the group in the future, among other topics. Sixteen people either attended the focus group or submitted comments via the survey or emails to staff.
Appendices 4 and 5 to this memorandum describe the feedback MPO staff received through surveys and the focus group. Key themes from this feedback are highlighted below:
In addition to gathering feedback from participants, MPO staff have developed
their own impressions about the TWG and how it functioned during 2020 and 2021. As previously mentioned, staff needed to explore alternative ways to facilitate conversations between transit providers beyond what seemed to be possible at general TWG meetings, which led to the coffee chats described in Section 2. Other staff findings are listed below:
For the remainder of federal fiscal year (FFY) 2022, MPO staff intend to generally maintain the TWG in its current format—hosting quarterly full-group meetings, one or two coffee chats per month, and other events as opportunities arise (such as the January 2022 microtransit forum co-sponsored with MAPC and the MBTA Advisory Board). Staff proposes to maintain this structure for the foreseeable future while continuing to collect feedback about the TWG from participants and to report to the MPO. Depending on interest, staff may host regular coffee chats about certain issues, such as human services transportation, while continuing to vary other chat topics. Staff are already finding valuable ways of engaging transit stakeholders through these venues to help shape the MPO’s Long-Range Transportation Plan, the Coordinated Public Transit–Human Services Transportation Plan, and other MPO activities and plans, and staff look forward to doing so more in the future.
MPO staff appreciate and will explore TWG participant suggestions about supporting more action-or-project oriented activities within the group. As discussed in Section 4, participants highlighted mapping, creating information resources (such as GTFS feeds), and identifying ways to achieve Coordinated Public Transit–Human Services Transportation plan goals as possible activities. While MPO staff could facilitate additional discussions of specific transit issues through the TWG in its existing form, more time and resources would be needed from both MPO staff and TWG participants to advance specific actions or projects. MPO staff also need to consider and communicate the role of the MPO in facilitating action-oriented activities, particularly since action or implementation would likely depend upon other agencies or organizations. Staff plan to spend the near future continuing to collect needs and gather feedback before exploring future action-oriented possibilities.
MPO staff are grateful to all those who have presented or otherwise participated in Transit Working Group events and who have shared their feedback and suggestions about the group. Staff also appreciate the participation of MPO members who have attended events and who have provided their thoughts about the group. Staff welcome feedback and questions about the Transit Working Group at the February 3, 2022, MPO meeting or at any time in the future.
Appendix 1: Transit Working Group Events as of December 1, 2021
Appendix 2: Transit Working Group Event Participant Affiliation Details
Appendix 3: Questions Used for the September 2021 Transit Working Group Focus Group and Survey
Appendix 4: Feedback Themes from the Transit Working Group Survey and Focus Group (Summer and Fall 2021)
Appendix 5: Feedback Themes from Transit Working Group Post-Event Surveys (July 2020 to November 2021)
The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) operates its programs, services, and activities in compliance with federal nondiscrimination laws including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, and related statutes and regulations. Title VI prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and requires that no person in the United States of America shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin (including limited English proficiency), be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that receives federal assistance. Related federal nondiscrimination laws administered by the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, or both, prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, sex, and disability. The Boston Region MPO considers these protected populations in its Title VI Programs, consistent with federal interpretation and administration. In addition, the Boston Region MPO provides meaningful access to its programs, services, and activities to individuals with limited English proficiency, in compliance with U.S. Department of Transportation policy and guidance on federal Executive Order 13166.
The Boston Region MPO also complies with the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Law, M.G.L. c 272 sections 92a, 98, 98a, which prohibits making any distinction, discrimination, or restriction in admission to, or treatment in a place of public accommodation based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or ancestry. Likewise, the Boston Region MPO complies with the Governor's Executive Order 526, section 4, which requires that all programs, activities, and services provided, performed, licensed, chartered, funded, regulated, or contracted for by the state shall be conducted without unlawful discrimination based on race, color, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, creed, ancestry, national origin, disability, veteran's status (including Vietnam-era veterans), or background.
A complaint form and additional information can be obtained by contacting the MPO or at http://www.bostonmpo.org/mpo_non_discrimination.
To request this information in a different language or in an accessible format, please contact
Title VI Specialist
For people with hearing or speaking difficulties, connect through the state MassRelay service:
For more information, including numbers for Spanish speakers, visit https://www.mass.gov/massrelay
1 Boston Region MPO Staff. “MPO Transit Committee Outreach Results and Staff Recommendations.” November 7, 2019. Available at https://www.bostonmpo.org/data/calendar/pdfs/2019/MPO_1107_Memo_Transit_Committee_Outreach.pdf.