City-owned shuttles or riding with college kids? Council is aboard, and for an e-bike delivery biz
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.”
Those e-bikes will be an AWESOME idea in rainy, snowy, or just plain cold weather.
Be careful what you wish for. So play if forward just a few years.
T says ridership is down even further on xyz routes and a notice comes – we are not just reducing we are eliminating service from the xyz bus routes.
Uber eats, Door dash etc one by one removes Cambridge from delivery area.
Cambridge ends up with I’d guess all new what hundreds or thousands of city workers driving buses around and delivering food. Might work but completely new territory to venture into.
This and the parking minimum conversation are linked. We should be pushing for centralized parking facilities like all our studies suggest … that we pay a ton for and continually do nothing. Thank you Toner and Council for pushing this.
City -run delivery service.
Again, what is this inept group of councillors
Setting up the ability of residents to use the Shuttle buses in the short term seems the simpler of the suggested solutions as it adds no additional vehicles or traffic and would simply involve some payment by the City to cover the costs for those that need them.
Especially if the MBTA cuts route services or if they get taken over by the Federal Transportation Administration as has been threatened and is like to include drastic cuts in service to balance the books.
As for the delivery service problem, I’m not sure what can be done. Throw regulation on them locally and they will just stop doing business here, Cambridge is a small pond in their corporate thinking. Only way to regulate this would have to be on a State Wide level to be effective.