It is interesting to analyze my trip into Harvard Square in the context of public transport politics.  Having taken two separate shuttle services, I can analyze the politics behind each, then try to compare them within that lens.

Tufts provided students with an alternative shuttle to Harvard Square as soon as they found out about the weekend MBTA closures.  This was clearly expensive, so it begs the question of how did they budget for it with such short notice.  Regardless of how they set up the service so quickly, it is clear that they did so out of kindness.  There was no real need for the service – none at all.  With the MBTA running free shuttles from Alewife, to Davis, through Porter, and ending in Harvard, Tufts students were not cut off at all.

So why did the university pay to shuttle students to and from Harvard?  The first issue was convenience.  Making a transfer always adds a bit of stress to any commute, and one has to rely on a second form of transport to get to their final destination.  There was also a lot of political will behind this issue.  Students were getting nervous about their weekend excursions and I was even interviewed by a Boston Globe reporter regarding the impact the MBTA repairs would have on my freedom of mobility.  Additionally, and this is the kicker, Tufts used to offer a shuttle to Harvard years ago.  It was underutilized and eventually cut, but now that there was a “need” for one, they couldn’t say no to the number of students clamoring for it.  This was a nice-but-unnecessary thing for the university to do for its students, and it abated any potential outcry from those feeling entitled to the most convenient means of transportation.

The MBTA faced similar political pressure to offer a shuttle.  It was essentially cutting off the last 3 stops of the Red Line from the greater Boston community.  Many people work weekends, have recurring plans, or are just accustomed to using the MBTA as their transportation provider on the weekends.  Standard bus routes would suffice, but they are much slower.  Also, I doubt you would ever see the busy businessmen from the train patiently sitting on the bus.  That would be an issue not only of speed, but of class boundaries.  However, as to not totally bog down the bus system and avoid people’s anger at riding the normal bus routes, the MBTA offered its weekend station-hopping bus service.

The MBTA shuttle was free not out of kindness, but out of necessity however.  There are two reasons for this – excludability and public pressure.  The first reason, excludability, comes from the fact that Harvard station was still open inbound.  People could catch the train in from Harvard, but more importantly they exited there when on their way back to Porter, Davis, or Alewife.  They exited the train, walked back through the turnstiles, and got on they bus.  Obviously, you couldn’t charge these people twice for inconveniencing them, so they didn’t have to pay to ride the shuttle.  However, as there is nothing separating the general public in Harvard station from these travelers just departing their train for a transfer, the MBTA couldn’t differentiate between those who had paid and those who didn’t.  This is where the second reason of public pressure comes in – there would be a massive public outcry if they even tried to differentiate these riders, as people who would normally ride the train into Porter/Davis/Alewife felt that their inconveniencing had earned them a free ride.

For similar reasons, Tufts and the MBTA both provided alternative transport.  Both organizations were being a bit nicer to their constituents than they had to be, but this served to mitigate potential claims of unfairness and inconvenience. The difference between the two stemmed from a sense of entitlement.  While the MBTA riders really needed a shuttle (free or otherwise), Tufts students did not.  However, it was the Tufts students who seemed more entitled.  The MBTA riders seemed just relieved that they were being thought of and taken care of, so were much more appreciative of the service.  This was seen in their attitudes and energy.  The politics surrounding these shuttles were complex, but by playing it safe most problems and feeling of anger were avoided.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>