Worcester City Council signals support for fare-free bus service


By Steven H. Foskett Jr.
Telegram & Gazette Staff

Posted Jan 7, 2020 at 8:59 PMUpdated Jan 7, 2020 at 8:59 PM   

WORCESTER – The City Council Tuesday night signaled support for a deeper exploration into the feasibility of a fare-free public transportation system.

Councilors supported an order from at-large City Councilor Gary Rosen to request that public hearings on the idea be held through the city through the council’s Public Service and Transportation Committee. Residents and local transit advocates at the meeting said moving to a fare-free system would help address a host of issues, including accessibility, equity, environmental justice, and traffic congestion.

Rosen said from what he has seen and heard about other municipalities that have gone fare-free – including Kansas City, Olympia, Wash., and on a limited basis, Lawrence – the move has resulted in increased ridership. That’s what the aim would be in the city, Rosen said, filling empty buses.

“Let’s see what happens,” he said.

District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera co-sponsored the order, and said going fare-free would be the first step in bringing the WRTA into the modern age. For a city that is always talking about how it is moving forward, Worcester’s public transportation seems to be stuck, she said. She said it’s not just a poverty issue; fare-free bus transportation would mean more people would use the system.

“This is doable. We can do this here in the city,” Rivera said.

The Research Bureau released a report in May calling for free WRTA service, sparking the discussion locally. The $2 million to $3 million cost of making the service free would increase ridership and could be made up through cost savings, increased governmental aid, and partnerships, the report said. The WRTA is the state’s second-largest regional transit authority by ridership, running 23 fixed routes to 13 communities and offering paratransit services to a total of 37 communities in its service area.

At-large Councilor Khrystian King said moving to fare-free would produce a return on investment. He said the city is a hub for many services, and people often need public transportation to access those services.

Rosen and at-large Councilor Moe Bergman stressed that they did not support moving to a fare-free system on the backs of city taxpayers. Bergman said state legislators should be looped in at every level of the public discussion as the process unfolds, and Rosen said he envisions the city initially getting the state to commit to funding a three-year pilot program.

Residents and transit advocates Tuesday told councilors they wholeheartedly support the idea. Nick Wurst said free public transportation allows people who can’t afford cars some financial relief. He said fares can add up to a significant cost for people making minimum wage. The move to fare-free should be coupled with a reversal of recent cuts to the WRTA, and the addition of more buses and routes, he said.

Nancy Garr-Colzie said the idea of fare-free is not an unreachable goal. She said it can actually happen, and the city is ready for such a system. James Bedard said looking at the success other communities have had removing fares should give officials confidence it will work here. There has been much focus in recent years on development in the city, but the working class can’t be left behind, Bedard said. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, Bedard said, for money that communities invest in public transportation leads to economic development.

Henry Hernandez said he works with undocumented residents through Neighbor to Neighbor and said they would benefit greatly from a fare-free system. It would give people who can’t get driver’s licenses reliable transportation, and help address climate change by decreasing reliance on individual vehicles, he said.

The council also Tuesday supported an order from District 5 Councilor Matthew Wally to ask the city administration to draw up plans to make improvements to Duffy Field and Foley Stadium. Wally said it has become clear through meetings held last year that the new Doherty Memorial High School will likely be built largely on its current footprint in Newton Hill at Elm Park, and will not have the room for a full complement of athletic fields. He said bolstering the nearby Duffy and Foley will give students at the new Doherty access to state-of-the-art fields. He also stressed that the fields would not be restricted for use solely by Doherty.

The council adopted a resolution to support efforts to bring the Little League Softball World Series to the city. Linda McGill of Massachusetts District 4 Little League told the council Tuesday a decision could be made soon on whether the city will host this year.

Holyoke nets $275K grant for planning transition to net-zero future



Staff Writer

Published: 12/18/2019 11:33:49 PM

HOLYOKE — As scientists warn of the increasingly dire need to stop using fossil fuels to avoid the worst of climate change, municipalities are grappling with a big question: What does that transition away from fossil fuels look like.

For Holyoke, planning that transition just got a financial boost.

The city was recently named the recipient of a $275,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to facilitate planning of a transition away from fossil fuels. The money will allow Holyoke to develop plans to completely transition buildings in the city, as well as its energy grid, to renewable energy.

The funding will pay for project management, technical consulting and capacity building, as well as technical support to the municipally owned Holyoke Gas and Electric company. An additional $125,000 was awarded to the organization Neighbor to Neighbor, which will be doing resident engagement as part of the process. And the Conservation Law Foundation is also joining the coalition, helping with stakeholder engagement and designing energy policies.

“On Earth Day this year, I spoke of the need for bold, collective action at the local level to confront our climate crisis and build a green economy,” Mayor Alex Morse said in a statement. “Over the past few months we’ve been building partnerships to launch an initiative that will allow Holyoke to lead the way in a world remade and powered by renewable energy, while serving as a model for cities around the country.”

Holyoke Director of Planning and Economic Development Marcos Marerro said the grant will help the city understand how to transition its energy grid to clean sources, as well as transforming all the buildings in the city — city-owned and private.

“Our intent is for both electric and heating to go down to zero carbon emissions,” Marerro said.

Marrero said part of that work involves understanding the incentive structure for people to afford to deploy new technology in their homes. For the most part, buildings in the city get their electricity from Holyoke Gas and Electric. But while many houses also receive gas for heating from HG&E, others use oil or wood for heating.

“It’s a really interesting problem, it’s a very complex problem,” Marrero said.

In addition to the funding the city is receiving, HG&E is receiving no-cost technical assistance from the Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization that works to transform energy use.

Elvis Mendez, the organizing director of Neighbor to Neighbor, said his organization is partnering with the city to engage residents in the energy transition process. He praised the city’s commitment to going “beyond the normal resident input relationship” and centering the leadership of city residents.

“We’re really excited about that,” Mendez said. “It speaks to a transformative politics.”

Mendez said his organization will be going door to door, holding local meetings and engaging residents in a variety of other ways, allowing them to participate in the process and shape what it looks like. He said that process will mean that residents are designing the city’s energy future, as well as learning, together.

“We’re looking to do a lot of different things,” he said. “We’re wanting to help increase, grow our community environmental literacy, to have a better understanding of the environmental crisis and the moment we’re in.”

The planning work is expected to begin early in 2020 with the creation of a governance structure for the project, preparation for public engagement and the aggregating of technical data.

Boston’s Barr Foundation provides financial support for initiatives in the areas of education, the arts and climate change.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

N2N Works to Stop Colombia Gas Pipeline Proposal in Wake of Explosions in Merrimack Valley

On September 13, 2018 at 5pm, the Merrimack Valley became an apocalyptic scene. More than 75 fires and explosions occurred in the cities and towns of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The sky was filled with smoke, the air smelled of gas, and deep tones of red, orange, and yellow filled homes. Our hearts go out to the families whose homes were set ablaze, and who were injured and killed.

Image by Adam Glanzmen

We know that what happened in the Merrimack Valley is not new. Gas leaks have been occurring all over the state in communities like  Weymouth, Springfield and several others. This same catastrophic event could have happened in any number of communities that have been experiencing gas leaks.

We need to put an end to pipeline expansion in the state of Massachusetts. We cannot sit idly by as more of these appalling events continue in our communities.

The response of Columbia Gas has been dismal. They were slow to respond, and their response was deemed so inadequate by Governor Baker and authorities, that they transferred the responsibility to a different gas company, Eversource. Even Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera says that Columbia Gas is “hiding from the problem.”

What makes this event all the more frightening is that Columbia Gas, whose parent company is NiSource, is proposing a new 6-mile long pipeline in Western Massachusetts from Agawam to Holyoke.

What’s happening in Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover will not be isolated. These are events that will occur more and more as we continue to build more pipelines and rely on natural gas. Instead we need more renewable energy such as solar and wind.

Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) Holyoke in partnership with Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign (CGRC) is fighting Columbia Gas RIGHT NOW to stop this pipeline expansion in Western Massachusetts. Our hearts break to see the destruction that this pipeline company caused in the Merrimack Valley late in the afternoon on Thursday. When children and parents are suppose to be coming home to spend time together, they were instead made to evacuate, no longer feeling safe in their homes.

Join N2N in our fight to end this pipeline expansion project in our community of Holyoke.

Holyoke Mayor, Alex Morse, ran his entire mayoral campaign on 100% renewable energy for the city of Holyoke. However, under his watch, Holyoke Gas and Electric signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Columbia Gas allowing the gas company to start construction of the pipeline in November 2019.

His willingness to go along with Columbia Gas’ proposal for a new pipeline is a direct contradiction to earlier statements. Will he side on the part of the community and its well-being, or sellout to a large fracked gas company and put our community at risk?

Dozens of concerned citizens from the City of Holyoke have signed our petition to stop the proposed 6-mile long gas pipeline from Agawam to Holyoke, and we need more signatures to get Holyoke City Council to take on the issue.

If you’re a resident of Holyoke, contact Jacqueline Velez (646-683-1883/jackie@n2nma.org) to sign our petition AND Call Mayor Morse at (413) 322-5510 to tell him ‘NO’ to Columbia Gas!

You can help stop new gas infrastructure by making a gift here.

Mass Legislature Fails to Act on Environmental Justice & Solar Access in 2018

All communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe deeply and live sustainably–regardless of race or income. Yet, our state legislators who serve to represent all communities, apparently disagree.

In an article published in Commonwealth Magazine by one of our movement’s leaders, Khalida Smalls, wrote, “inaction has consequences”. The State legislature has fallen short in their ability to push for effective climate and environmental legislation, leaving our black and brown communities, and communities of color left out, once again, in not only clean energy legislation, but in immigrant rights legislation, and wage theft as well. All-and-all, the state legislature severely missed the mark on justice and equity legislation, and it’s becoming a trend.

For instance, the Massachusetts House and Senate Conference Committee released an energy bill on July 30th at 8pm, that includes the following: boosting the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) annual increase to 2 percent in 2020, but declines back to 1 percent in 2030; allows for 1,000 megawatt hours of energy storage and 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind; expanding energy efficiency offering within the MassSave program, and allowing trash and biomass to be burned to produce energy.

As part of the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), we have worked tirelessly over the past two years to promote equity in our state’s energy and environmental policies. This legislative session, GJC has prioritized environmental justice and access to solar energy as critical issues facing our communities, right now. We are grateful for the two bill champions–Sen. Chang-Diaz and Sen. Eldridge, and the handful of other legislators who supported the bills to the end. Unfortunately, their support was not enough to see these bills passed. 

On the evening of Monday, July 30th, state legislatures showed us that our communities can continue to be sacrifice zones for pollution from landfills, gas compressor stations, pipelines, toxins in our homes, schools, and on our playgrounds. This is what environmental racism looks like – overburdening and denying benefits and protection to communities of color. These sacrifice zone for pollution exist because there’s a long history and evidence of these communities being targeted.

Massachusetts despite its progressive reputation, has some of the most profound racial and class disparities with respect to the unequal exposure to environmental hazards. Our legislators had a clear opportunity to do something about that–instead, they did nothing. The Center for Effective Government in 2016 graded states based on the exposure of people of color and residents below the poverty line to hazardous facilities. Massachusetts scored on the failing end and was one of just two states with an “F” grade. Compared to white children in Massachusetts, children of color under age 12 are two and a half times more likely and low-income Latino children almost four times more likely, to live in the shadow of a hazardous chemical facility.

The Solar Access Act would have been a step to helping our communities breathe clean air by encouraging developers to build solar energy in low-to-middle income communities, and environmental justice communities, and provide meaningful savings for these customers. State policy continues to deeply disadvantage these communities by offering those who already experience economic barriers a fraction of the solar compensation available to homeowners with perfect roofs.

Beyond the disregard for communities of color demonstrated this past legislative session, legislatures also missed the mark to protect our communities from further pollution. We know this, because GJC worked closely with the Governor’s administration and key legislative committee leadership to introduce and move a bill that was, in fact, cautiously consistent with state policies that have been in place since 2001. This was the Environmental Justice Act.

The bill was reported favorably, and without amendments, from the Environment Committee. Subsequently, the bill was also added to the Environmental Bond bill and successfully reported out of both the Environment and Bonding Committees.

Yet, despite having been successfully reported three times out of Committee, without amendments or opposition from regulated industries or the Administration, the bill stagnated in Ways and Means and was ultimately killed. The only discernible opposition in the final days of the legislative session appeared to be a single legislator who objected to protecting communities of color from excessive pollution, because to do so would require the legislature to recognize racial disparities, instead of being “color-blind.” In a stark abdication of commonsense law-making, this legislature derailed an entire line of public policy development that has existed in Massachusetts since 2001.

If we step out of the rarified air of Beacon Hill, we find a harsh racial reality across the state. Black, Latino, and Asian-American communities are more likely to bear the brunt of pollution and environmental injustices. The city of Springfield suffers from the highest levels of asthma, nationwide. This country, this state and this city have a history steeped in racism and discrimination, and it continues to be true today. Moving these two legislative bills could have been major stepping stones in ensuring that all communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe deeply and live sustainably.

Join us in holding legislator’s accountable. Let’s work to build even more state and local power, and show legislators that our lives and issues matter, and that we voted them into office. The State House is OUR house. Let’s work to reclaim it!

State Representative Candidate Forum–Full Video

State Representative Candidate Forum in Lynn

Member-leaders from N2N and Lynn United for Change asked questions about the most pressing issues in our community, including rapid gentrification and development in the city, lack of housing and rising rents, and environmental justice.

The candidates are running for the 11th Essex District.

See full video here:



Environmental Justice Webinar


The resources our donors contribute to Neighbor to Neighbor are essential to our fight for a better world, so we’re excited to create a space where we share with you the transformative work that your generosity makes possible. This is our first Donor Call & Webinar of an on-going series where we will share our work and build with you. We hope this inspires you to sustain N2N.


In this webinar, our speakers offered an overview of N2N’s burgeoning environmental justice program, and shared insights from one of our local environmental justice campaigns. Our speakers also answered some great questions from those who were able to join the call.




Additional ResourceMovement for Generation Zine

N2N IS HIRING: Climate Justice Field Coordinator

JOB POSTING: Climate Justice Field Coordinator

Neighbor to Neighbor is hiring a full-time Climate Justice Field Coordinator with a community organizing background to join our diverse, passionate leadership team.

About Neighbor to Neighbor
We are the “new majority:” people of color, immigrants, women, and the working class, on a path to liberation. Our statewide, membership organization is marching to put people and the planet before profit. We counter the fear that causes injustice by building power to transform the institutions that govern our lives. In an era of income inequality, environmental degradation, and racism, our chapters are confronting this triple crisis in Massachusetts. We are certain that a better world is possible and that we are the ones to build it. For more information, please visit www.n2nma.org and actionfund.n2nma.org.

Background & Vision of Neighbor to Neighbor’s Climate Justice Program
After successfully completing a campaign to shut down a coal plant in Mt. Tom, Holyoke and transitioning the site to a solar field, Neighbor to Neighbor is expanding our climate justice work. We are on the brink of developing an integrated and state-wide climate justice program into our organizing model of going broad for big sate-wide wins and deep for base building and leadership development. Given our membership and our track record working on economic justice, Neighbor to Neighbor is well positioned to bring to the field of climate justice an economic and racial justice lens.

As members of the Green Justice Coalition and the Mass Power Forward Coalition, Neighbor to Neighbor currently is engaged in important legislative campaigns to advance renewable clean energy and codify environmental justice oversight into state law. To these campaigns, we desire to add grassroots power that will lift campaign demands through organizing and mobilizing for legislative grassroots advocacy, and local events and actions. In addition, we seek to go deeper in the three communities where we organize – Lynn, Holyoke and Springfield – to conduct surveys at the doors and focus groups to learn directly from our community what their most pressing issues are, how they understand climate change, and identify local environmental threats.

Position Description
In partnership with the Executive Director, the Climate Justice Field Coordinator will build out Neighbor to Neighbor’s state-wide climate justice program. The vision is to establish a core group of Neighbor to Neighbor members to lead campaign planning and actions. The Climate Justice Field Coordinator will be able to travel and willing to spend at least three days/week in the field in Lynn, Holyoke and Springfield. Given that our entire organizing staff is Latino/a, our ideal candidate will have a racial justice analysis, experience working with or living in communities of color, and be ready to engage as a team player.

Key Job Responsibilities

  • Strategy: Work with the Executive Director to articulate and implement an annual plan with clear outcomes, objectives, activities and timeline that will guarantee the establishment of a core group of 15 – 20 member leaders at Neighbor to Neighbor committed and devoted to advancing a climate justice agenda that integrates racial and economic justice. Work with Executive Director and the organizing team in developing and implementing a community climate justice survey; analyze results and integrate them into Neighbor to Neighbor’s climate justice program.
  • Community Organizing and Coalition Building: Develop and execute canvassing plans in targeted neighborhoods in Lynn, Holyoke and Springfield; accompany canvassers in door knocking activities; organize public events and workshops; do at least five one-on-ones a week; facilitate member meetings and trainings. Must have a Driver’s License and be able and willing to regularly travel across the state. Represent Neighbor to Neighbor in the Green Justice Coalition, MA Power Forward Coalition and other state and national spaces.
  • Management and Administration: Recruit, train and supervise a team of part-time canvassers at each chapter; keep track of progress towards program outcomes in N2N’s organizing database system; document program achievements through written reports, pictures and social media posts.
  • Fundraising: Set an annual fundraising goal; manage individual donor portfolio of at least 30 donors for cultivation and solicitation; organize one grassroots fundraising event or house party; collaborate with Executive Director and Development Director in providing information for grant writing and reports.


  • Community Organizing: Passion for economic, racial and environmental justice. Two or more years’ experience as a community organizer, including volunteer recruitment and supervision, canvassing, and meeting facilitation.
  • Project Management: Experience in planning, leading, and managing organizing projects, including working with others to reach common goals and objectives. Ability to work independently and as a team player, to take initiative, and to manage multiple tasks and projects simultaneously. Strong organizational and time management skills with exceptional attention to detail.
  • Communications: Skilled in creating powerful, compelling written and oral communications for the campaign and for fundraising. Ability to convey complex ideas through brief, simple materials. Fluent in Spanish.
  • Relationship Building: Skilled at establishing and cultivating strong relationships with a diverse range of people, across the organization and externally. High energy and passion for Neighbor to Neighbor’s mission. Flexible and adaptable style.

Compensation: Salary: $45 – 55 DOE. Benefits include fully paid health insurance coverage for individuals and families; paid holidays, sick time, and three weeks paid vacation; Flexible Spending Account, and disability.

To Apply: Email resume and cover letter to elena@n2nma.org with subject Climate Justice Field Coordinator. Applications will be considered as they arrive until position is filled.

Neighbor to Neighbor strongly encourages people of color and women to apply

50 to D.C.!

Neighbor to Neighbor members are headed to the People’s Action Founding Convention in D.C. on April 23-25, 2017 to mark the 100 days of the Trump administration. The only question is: how many of us will represent Massachusetts’ progressive New Majority?

Let’s get 50!

With your help, 50 N2N members can show up and rise up in solidarity, defiance and resistance with other activist leaders against the Trump regime.

You can make this happen by supporting our GoFundMe Campaign with a generous donation or by sharing our campaign with your friends and families.

 Donate here — www.gofundme.com/50toD-C — or share the link! 

 The time is now to build power.