Transit Briefs: MBTA, SFMTA, Sound Transit, DCTA

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Bay Area Transportation Authority (MBTA), Keolis and CIC Health have teamed on the Commuter Rail Vax Express to boost access to the COVID-19 vaccine; San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will begin restoring cable car service by early September; Amazon is committing $100 million in below-market funding for affordable housing units on Sound Transit surplus properties; and Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) A-train commuter rail turns 10.

Through the Vax Express program, CIC Health partner Cataldo Ambulance established a rolling vaccination site on board an MBTA Commuter Rail train. The train made stops earlier this month at centrally located stations in “disproportionately impacted communities with low vaccination rates.” They included Worcester, Lowell, Lawrence and Fitchburg, and in Boston at Mattapan, North Station and South Station. The public could walk-up without an appointment or book an appointment in advance. A second round of vaccinations on the Vax Express will take place July 7-11 at the same locations.

Keolis, MBTA’s commuter rail operator, is providing train crews and other resources, and has worked with CIC Health and the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center to develop the train schedule.

“The MBTA is pleased to be a part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s comprehensive efforts to increase access to the Commonwealth’s vaccination program,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said. “As vaccination rates increase, the MBTA looks forward to serving current and returning riders while maintaining a transit environment that is safe and comfortable for everyone.”

“As historic and central features in our cities and towns, train stations are an attractive vaccination location because they are convenient and allow for a fun community-focused event,” said John Killeen, acting CEO of Keolis Commuter Services. “Our Keolis Boston team is proud to support the Commonwealth’s efforts to enhance vaccine access, especially in a way that advances equity, and contributes to improving the health and safety of our families, friends and neighbors.”

SFMTA staff will conduct mechanical inspections of the historic cable cars as well as operator retraining in mid-July. By the first week of August, they will run a “mock service” trial with riders. By early September, cable car service will return: first to the Powell-Hyde line from about 7:30 a.m. until about 10 p.m. (though cars returning to the cable car barn after 10 p.m. will continue to take riders to Chinatown). Service on the Powell-Mason and California routes will then follow. SFMTA temporarily halted cable car service in March 2020, due to the pandemic.

Amazon’s partnership with Sound Transit—the regional transit system serving the Seattle and Central Puget Sound area in Washington state—will help developers create up to 1,200 new affordable housing units as part of a transit-oriented development (TOD) program.

The first $25 million of Amazon’s $100 million investment is slated for pre-development activities, such as site due diligence, engineering and permitting, while the remaining $75 million will support housing construction, which is expected to begin within five years.

The funding is part of Amazon’s $300 million total transit commitment for “equitable transit-oriented affordable housing development in communities it calls home.” Additionally, the investment with Sound Transit is the second in the region from Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund, a more than $2 billion commitment to preserve and create 20,000-plus affordable homes through below-market loans and grants. The first: $185.5 million in below-market loans and grants to King County Housing Authority to preserve affordability for 1,000 apartment homes.

The Sound Transit TOD program “relies extensively on partnerships with developers, cities and affordable housing funders to achieve these complex projects,” said Thatcher Imboden, Sound Transit’s Director for Land Use Planning and Development. “There are not enough resources to meet the affordable housing needs in this region, and this partnership with Amazon will help build more affordable housing units sooner.”

The Sound Transit TOD program has built, is constructing, or is designing more than 1,500 affordable apartments on Sound Transit surplus property, according to the agency.

DCTA celebrated 10 years of A-train commuter rail service on June 18. (See Railway Age’s June 17, 2011, story on the service debut.) The agency held a virtual birthday party for the 21-mile line connecting the Texas counties of Denton and Dallas. It offered customers free rides all day when they said, “Happy 10th birthday A-train!” to proof-of-fare personnel; handed out treats during morning and afternoon peak commuting times; and offered selfie scavenger hunt throughout June.

DCTA has five A-Train stations; two in Denton and three in Lewisville (see map below). The A-Train also connects with DART light rail at the Trinity Mills Station in Carrollton, where riders can transfer to the Green Line, which provides access to DART’s Red, Orange and Blue Lines as well as Trinity Railway Express (TRE) commuter service.

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