The MBTA held a public meeting last week at City Hall seeking input on its public engagement plan that at times became an opportunity for T customers to speak up on the variety of issues they see with transit service.
The meeting on Thursday, March 5, was part of the public input period for the MBTA Public Engagement Plan.
“The Public Engagement Plan is an opportunity for riders to influence what happens at the MBTA by delivering better services to customers,” said MBTA Assistant General Manager for Policy Laurel Paget-Seekins.
Paget-Seekins said the engagement plan will help the MBTA make better decisions and strengthen projects by getting input from the public earlier in the process.
Public input for the draft of the public engagement plan is still being accepted through March 20. Those who were unable to attend one of the five public meetings (including the one in Chelsea) can provide feedback online at mbta.com/public-engagement or email [email protected] Paget-Seekins said the online comments will be cataloged and carry just as much weight as any input from the public meetings.
Paget-Seekins pointed to several recent examples of public outreach to highlight what the MBTA is trying to accomplish, including the Green Line extension from Lechmere to Union Square in Somerville and the Better Bus network redesign project.
Outreach efforts for both projects have included community meetings, website and email updates, door-to-door canvassing, and automated phone calls.
“Our public engagement plan is meant to guide future engagements,” Paget-Seekins said.
She said there are five suggested principles that will help guide that process, including developing strong community partners; strategic outreach to voices that have not always been traditionally heard; building inclusive, diverse, and accessible environments; having respectful and solutions-based dialogue; and being transparent with the process.
During the question and answer session, Paget-Seekins was asked why only one of the five public hearings on the plan were held in Boston. A number of those who attended the Chelsea meeting last week traveled to Chelsea after being unable to make it to the Boston hearing.
“We serve 175 towns, but the most ridership is in Boston,” said Paget-Seekins. “The question is how we reach as many people outside of meetings, as well.”
Several members of the Boston-based Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), a transportation justice community organization, raised their concerns about how the MBTA has handled past engagement efforts.
Some of those concerns included a lack of using existing MBTA resources, such as advertising and video messaging, to spread the word about upcoming projects. Several riders also said that the messaging of the Better Bus project did not clearly state that the project would include the rerouting of bus stops, and that there has sometimes been less community engagement for projects that impact more minority-based communities.
Paget-Seekins said the MBTA is taking into consideration ways it can reach out to people and neighborhoods that are impacted by MBTA projects, including going directly to housing complexes or community centers. She was also asked about the possibility of the MBTA holding affinity-group based meetings for people of different backgrounds, pointing out that there is one group already for people with disabilities.
Chelsea resident Susan Backstrom said the disability group meetings are effective, but could go further.
“The only issue is that it is in English,” said Backstrom. “Chelsea has more than 50 percent of its population that is Spanish speaking, that is a difference.”
While there was a focus on ways to improve the engagement of the MBTA, there were also several questions raised about other service issues and fare increases during the meeting.
While not directly related to the goal of the meeting, Paget-Seekins and several other MBTA officials did take time to answer as many questions as they could.
Paget-Seekins also said it was a great point raised by several residents that the MBTA could increase its transparency by more effectively communicating its financial data to the public.