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Climate Adaptation

How Climate-Proofing Mass Transit Can Make Cities More Equitable

By taking global warming and demographics into account, transit agencies can better serve vulnerable populations

An MBTA train operator rides over the Longfellow Bridge between Cambridge and Boston, Mass. 

An MBTA train operator rides over the Longfellow Bridge between Cambridge and Boston, Mass. 

Photographer: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

With commuters slowly coming back and Congress considering a major infusion of cash for public transportation, mass-transit operators suddenly have a rare moment to invest for the future. But looking out over a sea of dire problems—including aging infrastructure, a backlog of repairs and the need to rebuild ridership in a Covid-scarred world—how is a system manager to decide what to tackle first?

Researchers using an in-depth case study of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston have come up with an equation to prioritize repairs. Their quantitative formula breaks new ground by adding two variables system managers haven’t always considered: threats from climate change, and making the systems more equitable by protecting the most vulnerable users.