Editorial | Poll: Voters want to invest in transportation

The people of Massachusetts are primed and ready to invest in the state’s transportation infrastructure — and they don’t mind raising new tax revenues to do it. That’s the take-away from new public polling that was published last week by The MassINC Polling Group in work sponsored by the Barr Foundation. The survey asked more than 1,000 Massachusetts voters about the state’s public transportation system and their attitudes toward making improvements and how to pay for them.

“For years, public transit has been expected to pay for itself in a way that other government services, including other modes of transportation, have not,” said Richard Parr, research director at The MassINC Polling Group (MPG) in a statement. “These numbers show that voters are open to shifting to a new approach to paying for transit.”

Here are some key findings, according to MPG:

• Overall, 47 percent of those who were interviewed think that “things in Massachusetts are headed in the right direction” while 36 percent said that, no, we’re on the “wrong track.” Another 17 percent were unsure.

• Aside from Covid-19, the single-biggest issue facing state government is “economy/jobs,” which got top billing from 18 percent of respondents. Transportation and infrastructure was the top issue for about 8 percent.

• When asked about a November ballot question that would add a 4 percent levy to the tax bills of state residents making over $1 million annually, a super-majority of respondents – about 69 percent – said they support the idea while 21 percent oppose it.

• Use of the T remains significantly below pre-Covid levels, with large chunks of the state’s workforce— roughly 37 percent— working from home “at least a few times a week.”

•Also quite popular among those surveyed last month: Discounted fares for lower-income residents. Almost 80 percent of respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support the idea. And majorities – well over 50 percent – like the idea of making bus lines, subways, commuter rail, and ferries totally free for everyone.

The poll, which was conducted in late December, suggests that Mayor Wu and other leaders who make a case for shifting the cost of public transportation from riders to a broader base of taxpayers have traction, at least in the minds of the citizenry. And there’s clearly an appetite to ask the state’s wealthiest people to take on more of the burden of helping to foot the bill.

But getting to a “free T” cannot be the only item on the punch list. When asked to rate our state’s system – inclusive of tunnels, bridges, and highways – the biggest chunk of respondents answered “fair.” About three in ten said that it is straight-up “poor.”

Count us among the 45 percent or so who basically gave our overall system a “meh” grade. It’s hard to live in Dorchester and Mattapan and offer up much more than a lukewarm “I guess it could be worse.”

That could change if we align the Commonwealth’s eagerness for improvement and investment with the transformational changes afoot in places like Columbia Point, Port Norfolk, the Dorchester Avenue corridor, and inland as well, to Blue Hill Avenue. There’s a chance here to harness federal stimulus dollars with the longer-term promise of increased revenue to create a robust new system of road, rail, pathways, and ferry routes to serve our community well. We hope that our business and elected leaders— with guidance from the voters— will seize this moment.

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