Friday, May 24, 2024

Shuttles run for students by Harvard MIT and Lesley University could offer rides to Cambridge residents in a City Council proposal. (Photo: Jason Lawrence via Flickr)

After months of MBTA closings and safety concerns, Cambridge is looking at adding its own bus lines and supplementing service with university shuttles. At the City Council meeting on Monday, officials also asked city staff to test a program for an e-bike delivery service for local restaurants and businesses.

In the bus policy order passed unanimously, the city is asked “to determine if there could be a shared shuttle plan and service that could also be utilized by residents.” Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lesley University were listed as possible sources of a shared shuttle service.

The MBTA has faced recent systemwide failures. After a death on the red line, multiple crashes on the green line and a fire on the orange line – news that the entire orange line would shut down for repairs for a month starting Aug. 19 came late Tuesday, after the meeting, but the line does not serve Cambridge directly – councillors said they wanted to help meet the needs of residents without increasing car use. That could be with city-operated electrical or hybrid vehicles.

The city manager is expected to provide an update by the end of the September on the potential for shuttle partnerships with universities and local businesses.

While additional service with electrical vehicles is the priority, the hope would be for a long-term additional transportation solution for busy streets in Cambridge, such as a street trolley, said the author of the order, councillor Paul Toner.

“We could find something that’s environmentally sound and fun that people want to ride – at least during the nice weather – going up and down Mass. Ave. or Cambridge Street, connecting the squares,” he said. “Something that’s more frequent and easy to jump on and jump off of, to allow people to supplement the MBTA service that we have.”

City councillors also urged the the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority not to cut bus service to the Alewife and East Cambridge neighborhoods, as the agency has proposed as part of a network redesign. “Two years ago we sponsored an order asking the MBTA to actually increase service on Concord Avenue because residents were saying there wasn’t enough service there,” councillor Marc McGovern said.

E-bike delivery service

The proposal for an e-bike delivery service was handled separately and focused on helping restaurants forgo large, corporate third-party delivery services to keep fees and emissions down. Toner said the idea came from a restaurant owner in Harvard Square.

Theodora Skeadas, executive director of the small-business organization Cambridge Local First, said she’s been hearing frustrations from restaurants around third-party delivery services.

“When third-party delivery apps charge very high fees, it really eats into the margins of small businesses, basically making them break even or sometimes not even turn a profit on a sale,” Skeadas said. “It’s been very hard, because customers are increasingly relying on third-party delivery apps.”

CLF has been in touch with thousands of businesses in Cambridge advocating for more regulation on third-party delivery services. “We have been supporting businesses that have been advocating at the state level in Massachusetts to impose a cap on the fees that third-party delivery apps like DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, etc., can impose on small businesses,” she said.

Skeadas said the biggest challenge of the city-run delivery service would be creating effective technology to run the service and promoting it to ensure residents use it over more mainstream services.

“The city has an inherent incentive to consider equity, to think about how services can be delivered equitably,” she said. “They’re going to be taking into account the needs of more vulnerable institutions, and in this case, the needs of smaller businesses.”