Stephanie Jackson lives as far south in Boston as you can get and still be in the city limits, which can make commuting to her job downtown a challenge ¯ especially because she has to be at Dunkin’ by 5:30 in the morning.
“It’s pretty much like selling drugs,” says Jackson, with a grin, about her job slinging coffee. “It’s constant, it’s nonstop. I’m so busy I don’t even realize that the time has passed.”
Jackson owns a car but would never dream of using it to commute downtown. There’s no parking, traffic is a perpetually snarled nightmare and she wants to avoid getting a ticket. The point of going up there is to make money, not lose it.
But her neighborhood, Hyde Park, and most of the other southern Boston neighborhoods where much of the city’s Black population has long been concentrated, are not well served by rail connections. Flanked by subway lines, the heart of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan and Hyde Park have historically only had access to the Fairmount commuter rail line ¯ which had few stops in those communities.
In recent years, an activist campaign pressured Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to add stations to the Fairmount Line, drop the fares to subway levels and increase the frequency. Jackson just learned of the option last month, and she preaches about it with the zeal of the converted. It’s shaved over 30 minutes from her commute.
“I had no clue it was here until my sister told me about it, but it’s honestly a lifesaver,” says Jackson, who is riding back home after her morning shift. “I catch a 4:49 train to South Station, it gets me there at 5:15 and I’ve got time to spare. I love it.”
The upgrade of the Fairmount Line is part of a handful of wins over the last decade by transportation reform advocates in Boston, which has coincided with the city’s shift in a more politically progressive direction. Now both candidates for mayor, Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, have platforms on transit and streets policy that would have been hard to imagine even five years ago.
Wu is the one who has a deeper reputation in this area. For years, she made her name as both a detail-oriented wonk and a promoter of huge, sweeping policy changes that capture the imagination of voters. She’s a longtime advocate of non-car transportation and promotes the idea that the MBTA should eliminate fares. George argues that this is grandiose posturing, which Wu would not have the power to deliver alone (which is true), and instead wants to …….