An inexpensive way to get around Newton

by Aidan Lieberman, Freelance Editor
graphic courtesy of the City of Newton website

As your phone buzzes alerting you that your ride is here, you are greeted in your driveway by a friendly green and blue striped van, where you are accompanied on your ride to your destination by other Newton commuters.

This is Newton in Motion (NewMo) 2.0. It works similarly to Uber, but the service operates exclusively in Newton.

NewMo 2.0 is an expansion of NewMo 1.0, which launched three years ago as a mode of shared transportation for senior citizens. The senior service will continue to operate while the new commuter service, NewMo 2.0, is opened to the public.

Both services are on-demand, meaning users request a ride on the app just a few minutes before they travel somewhere.

Director of the Newton Senior Services Department Jayne Colino said that spontaneous ride-requesting can be nerve-wracking for older residents because previously, seniors at the senior center would have to book rides three days in advance with a taxi company.

She said she hopes NewMo will be a lasting success.

“If people felt comfortable using this type of service, then maybe they would feel comfortable using Uber or Lyft or other versions that are coming to the market and maybe stay even more connected than beyond their own neighborhood.”

On June 29, NewMo 2.0 opened to the public. Though the commuter service is cheaper than the senior service, $2 per ride instead of $5, it operates in a slightly stricter way. While the senior service is door-to-door, allowing users to travel from any location to any destination as long as both are in Newton, the commuter service can take you exclusively either to or from city centers and T stops. 

There are seven designated locations in the NewMo commuter service. The transit hub locations include the Newtonville Commuter Rail, the Chestnut Hill Green Line, the Newton Highlands Green Line and the Needham Heights Commuter Rail. The city center locations include Newton Center, Needham Street and the Mt. Ida Campus of UMass Amherst.

Commuters can travel anywhere in Newton as long as either the pickup or dropoff location is one of the designated locations. 

“Newton’s great because we have the Green Line and we have the commuter rail, but the majority of people don’t live within [a] five minute walk of those places, so it becomes less useful,” Director of Transportation Planning Nicole Freedman said. “We wanted to figure out a way to get people to and from public transit.”

Brian Kerrigan, a partner success manager at Via (the transportation app that powers NewMo), said that NewMo helps make public transportation more accessible for all Newton residents.

“Even in cities with robust transit infrastructure such as New York, it tends to be the poorest parts of the city that have the worst access to transit infrastructure,” he said. “These services aren’t the solution to all transit needs, but they can be quickly deployed to fill in those gaps until a more permanent solution is employed.”

To mitigate financial barriers, the usual cost of $2 per ride can be reduced to 50 cents per ride for qualifying low-income Newton residents.

South senior Jessie Traxler said that NewMo helps make Newton more affordable. 

“The idea of NewMo is great, especially if we want to have more affordable housing,” she said. “One of the objectives right now of the city government is they want people to be able to live in Newton without owning a car… so having a car service is helpful.”

In addition to creating a more equitable community, NewMo’s focus on shared vehicles has social, economic and environmental benefits, Kerrigan said.

“We are reducing the total amount of vehicle miles travelled,” he said. “Even a single car off the road makes some sort of difference.”

NewMo also offers businesses “organization partnerships,” which Kerrigan said a few local businesses and organizations are already utilizing.

“We’re working with local businesses, University of Massachusetts Mount Ida and William James College, so they can pre-purchase rides for their employees. They’re able to pay for rides on behalf of the people who need them,” he said.

Freedman said adding the high schools as stations is in NewMo’s future. 

“We want to look at focusing on high schools because it’s a good way to get to after school jobs or after school activities and even to school in the morning,” she said.

Kerrigan said that the commuter service may eventually become door-to-door like the senior service.

“With time, the goal is to open it up completely and allow people to take trips wherever they want from point to point in the city,” he said.

However the service develops, Freedman said that NewMo is a great transportation option for those living in Newton.

“We wanted a service that someone could take every single day that was affordable, reliable and sustainable,” she said.