Sen. Lesser Takes A Ride in Commuter Van to Boston, Highlighting Need for East-West Rail and More Job Opportunities in Western Mass.

BOSTON — At 5:15 a.m. Wednesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser joined a handful of Western Mass. residents on their daily commute to Boston for their regular work day. They leave at 5:30 a.m. every morning and get back around 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. each night, taking turns driving each way.

The commuters are from various cities and towns in the Greater Springfield area, most of whom make this commute every single day.

They meet in the McDonald’s parking lot at Exit 7 in Ludlow, where they board an Enterprise van, which they rent by pooling their money to cover the costs of the rental, gas, tolls and parking. It comes out to about $338 per month per person.

As Julie, the van “captain,” told Sen. Lesser, this is still the most cost-effective option, cheaper than taking a commercial bus every day or driving to Worcester to take the commuter rail from there.

“It was truly inspiring to witness the work ethic of these people, who wake up before dawn and share the cost of a trip that often exceeds two hours. But they should not have to travel four hours a day to keep a good, decent job. We need more high-paying jobs like the ones they commute for here in Western Mass. And, for those who choose to commute, we need more reasonable options,” said Sen. Lesser.

“Our state’s economy is fundamentally unfair when jobs are being vacuumed out of Western Mass and hyper-concentrating around Boston. The commuters I met on the van are losing time with their families. This soul-crushing commute is bad for Western Mass, making it harder and harder for middle class families to get by,” he added.

Sen. Lesser learned about the “van pool” several weeks ago, when two Springfield residents who take the van reached out to tell him about it and invited him to join for a commute to shine a spotlight on the need for East-West Rail.

Last month, Sen. Lesser, along with a number of Western Mass. colleagues, sent a letter to Gov. Charles Baker urging him to place the headquarters of the new state Department of Family and Medical Leave in Springfield. When the Department of Unemployment Insurance closed its Springfield call center in 2016, the area lost 57 middle class jobs. Now, the state Lottery also plans to move its warehouse operations out of Springfield, relocating to Worcester.

Sen. Lesser is awaiting the results of MassDOT’s feasibility study of East-West passenger rail service connecting Boston to Springfield and Pittsfield. The study should be completed by the first quarter of 2020.

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Ryan Migeed