Coach Company Reconsiders Boston Commuter Bus; Drops Newburyport

Area commuters may not have to scramble to find a new way to get to and from work in Boston after all. About two weeks after the Coach Company, which garages buses in Plaistow, N.H., said it will end its bus runs between the North Shore and Boston on April 19, the company announced it will keep most of those trips going. For about 40 years, Coach Company has shuttled residents from Boxford, Georgetown, Newburyport, Peabody and Topsfield in and out of Boston for work. Last month, the company said it would stop providing that service due to slumping ridership, a sharp rise in insurance costs and the lack of a state subsidy. On Wednesday, Coach Company owner Benton Smith announced that his company will continue to make trips in and out of Boston from Boxford, Georgetown, Peabody and Topsfield, but cannot keep its Newburyport service going due to specific issues there.

Plaistow’s Coach Company to End Daily Boston Commuter Trips This Month

Some commuters are scrambling to find a new way to get to work in Boston after a company that has provided commuter bus service for decades announced that it will make its last trip later this month. When commuters from Boxford, Georgetown, Newburyport, Peabody and Topsfield got on the Coach Company bus that typically shuttles them between downtown Boston and the North Shore in late March, they were greeted by a notice informing them that the company “will be exiting the Boston commuter bus service effective April 19.”

The company, which has a corporate office in Merrimac and a garage in Plaistow, N.H., said its decision was based on finances and the lack of a subsidy from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “We had always been subsidized by the State to help operate the commuter service but, in the Duval [sic] Patrick era, we and all the other commuter transportation providers had our subsidy cut,” the company wrote in its note to riders. “We did what we could to try and make it work but unfortunately we have reached the point where we can no longer afford to operate the commuter service.”

In a brief interview with the News Service, Coach Company owner Benton Smith said two other factors led to the decision to stop Boston commuter service: increases in the company’s insurance costs and dwindling ridership. He said the cost of insuring the company’s commuter buses recently doubled due to a change in which the company’s buses are now considered to be garaged in Boston rather than New Hampshire because of the commuter runs.

UMass President Hints at Possible 2.5 Percent Tuition Hike

University of Massachusetts officials on Wednesday advanced a 1.5 percent tuition hike for medical school students, and shined a bit more light on what in-state undergraduates across the other four campuses might expect to pay next year. At a hearing in Fall River last week, UMass senior vice president of administration and finance Lisa Calise told lawmakers that if they include the university's full $568.3 million funding request in next year’s budget, UMass would be able to freeze tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students. UMass President Marty Meehan reiterated that point Wednesday at a meeting of the Board of Trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee and added, “If not, our fiscal 2020 budget assumes a 2.5 percent increase for in-state undergraduate tuition.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, in his fiscal 2020 spending plan, recommended funding UMass at $558 million, which Meehan said fully funds the state’s share of collective bargaining costs. He said he hopes the House and Senate follow Baker’s lead in that area. Meehan said UMass officials are monitoring the state budget process and working with campuses including Lowell on developing the university’s fiscal 2020 budget, which will come before the UMass Board of Trustees in June.

Massport May Change the Way Ride Share Companies Flow Through Logan Airport

Massachusetts Port Authority officials are weighing a plan that would significantly change the flow of rideshare vehicles to and from Logan International Airport and would implement higher fees on the services, a combination of moves they say will reduce congestion and lower greenhouse gas emissions. According to the State House News Service, the proposal would funnel all trips on rides-for-hire apps such as Uber and Lyft into the ground floor of the airport's central garage for both inbound and outbound trips. Currently, vehicles can drop passengers off at the curb in front of terminals and pick up new rides in a shared parking lot. However, Massport officials say moving everything into one location would improve the flow of traffic, cut down on empty-car trips, and make it easier for drivers to find their next customers after completing a ride. Fees for service may also increase as a result, with arrival and departure fees for airport rides possibly jumping from $3.25 to $5 for single riders and $2.50 for shared rides.

MBTA Authorizes Six Percent Fare Hike Starting July 1

Travel on the MBTA's subway and commuter rail network will cost more starting July 1 after the authority’s oversight board approved a fare-hike plan Monday, securing tens of millions of dollars more in revenue every year that leaders say is necessary to continue service improvements and close a budget gap. The State House News Service reports increases average about 5.8 percent, but vary by travel type, and the board ultimately agreed to back off earlier proposed increases in bus fares. Under amendments made to the plan during Monday’s meeting, all bus rates as well as various reduced-cost passes will remain level, and the MBTA cannot implement additional fare hikes for another three years, other than changes to accommodate a new automated collection system. A single ride on the subway will now cost $2.40, up from $2.25, while a monthly bus and subway LinkPass rise from $84.50 to $90. The largest increase by dollars will be on the commuter rail, where monthly passes for the most distant zones will jump by up to $27.75.

Local Housing Authorities Lobby on Beacon Hill for More Money to Reduce Waiting Lists

There are 160,000 people in Massachusetts on waiting lists for public housing, according to housing authority representatives who visited the State House Thursday to ask for more state money and a larger role in helping the state tackle its affordable housing problem. Speakers at the lobby day held by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials also called for the production of more public housing units. “What we have here is what we already know, is that we have an affordable housing crisis in Massachusetts and throughout the country, and when I think of these staggering waiting list numbers, I always say to myself, what’s the solution?” said the organization’s board President Brian Costello, the executive director of the Watertown Housing Authority. “And for me, it always comes back to Kevin.”

That’s not Housing Committee Co-chair Rep. Kevin Honan, Costello noted, but actor Kevin Costner—more specifically, Costner’s character Ray in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” who hears a mysterious voice in his cornfield instructing him, “If you build it, he will come.”

Costello said there is an “absolutely phenomenal” demand for affordable housing in Massachusetts, and building more affordable housing is part of the solution. The message Costello said he hears, whispered by his housing authority predecessors, is “If you can build it, they’re already here.”

MassNAHRO’s members, which include 242 local housing authorities and four community development agencies, own or manage 43,000 state public housing units and 38,000 federal public housing units.

UMass President Meehan: ‘Online College’ for Adults Could Ease Current Financial Squeeze

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan laid out a plan on Monday to create a new “online college” for adult students that he said could become the system’s bulwark against increasing financial pressures on college campuses caused by competition for fewer college-aged students. The State House News Service quotes Meehan, in his annual speech to state leaders and the university community, as saying that in the coming months he would be meeting with senior officials and faculty on all five of the university’s campuses to plan a “new online college focused solely on adult learners.” He hopes the online college will gain a national profile. The college, as described by Meehan, will offer degree completion programs, “rapid response” to workforce demand and customized credential programs for employers. Meehan said he presented the university board of trustees last fall with a model for the online college that would “allow us to rapidly scale this platform through strategic partnerships, while implementing best practices in digital education for adult learners.” The revenue generated from the online programs will be returned to the campuses, he said. UMass Lowell currently holds criminal justice, business administration and psychology courses at a Haverhill satellite campus at Harbor Place, 2 Merrimack St.

MBTA Hearing on Fare Hikes Draws Criticism; Haverhill’s Vargas Calls Proposal ‘Deeply Unfair’

The MBTA’s public hearing in Boston Wednesday night on proposed fare increases seemed to touch virtually every grievance and concern directed at the authority in recent years. The State House News Service reports attendees shared stories of being late to work because trains were too full to let on new passengers and of standing on crowded platforms with no information about delays. They warned that the proposed hikes, which average about 6.3 percent, would disproportionately harm low-income commuters who rely on public transit. They cautioned that, by the T's own estimates, higher fares would drive down ridership and push more travelers onto already-crowded roads in carbon-spewing vehicles. In total, dozens of elected officials, transit activists and residents spoke Wednesday, virtually all arguing against the fare hikes.