What Boston Does Well in Urban Mobility
Boston offers affordable public transit across multiple modes. It may become more affordable for low income commuters: in 2023, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was granted $5 million in funding to study the feasibility of flexible transit fares based on income.
Built on government investments and top university talent, the city is a hub for mobility innovation. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Transportation, for example, unveiled in 2023 a new research and development center to study next-generation transportation.
Urban Mobility Readiness Index, Sustainable Mobility and Public Transit scores
Challenges and Opportunities for Boston’s Transportation System
Despite an innovative culture, Boston lags in the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) with a limited supply of charging stations. However, the city is seeking business partners to bolster the number of public charging stations and equitably ensure that every household is within a 10-minute walk of a charger by 2030.
The city’s legacy transit infrastructure will make any transition to autonomous transportation difficult to implement. The only two autonomous shuttle companies that were operating in Boston shut down in 2022 – a reflection of how difficult it may be to establish an autonomous mobility foothold.
Dimensions of the Urban Mobility Readiness Index score
How Boston Can Improve Its Public Transportation and Sustainable Mobility
While the state of Massachusetts has agreed to follow California's 2035 combustion engine car sales ban, Boston is still lagging in EV market sales, with shares less than half those of San Francisco. To close this gap, Boston can expand its existing monetary incentives package — such as increased subsidies for purchase and charger installation or toll discounts — although Massachusetts residents already can receive up to $7,500 in tax credits for buying an EV. Introducing non-monetary incentives, such as special access lanes, can help encourage more residents to choose an EV for their next car purchase. The city can implement interim bans of combustion engine car sales — ahead of California's schedule — to become a leader in Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) sales. Lastly, introducing low-emission zones will further discourage non-ZEV usage and purchases.
Throughout Boston, and in particular the areas further from the city center, many residents have long walks to T stations or bus stops. To improve station density and encourage ridership, the city can add bus stops and new routes to help connect residents with T lines — a cost-effective improvement that would help lower walking distances and overall commute times. Boston has made headway in this effort, with plans to rollout 25% more bus services between 2023-2028. In the long run, extending existing T lines and adding new line options will be key to building out the city's public transit offering for residents, but that effort will be a time-intensive and expensive undertaking.