On Sept. 5, Newton in Motion, also known as NewMo, reverted its pool of eligible users to select groups in the city, such as lower-income individuals and the elderly, due to a decline in outside funding and grants.
“[NewMo] had city support, but the city was also very instrumental in getting a lot of funding from grants,” Josh Ostroff, director of transportation planning in Newton, said. “In the fiscal year that ended in June, NewMo’s budget was almost $1.3 million, and that was done with only $275,000 of taxpayer funding. So, while it was very successful, those grants did not keep pace with our needs.”
The city launched NewMo in 2019 to provide door-to-door transit service for seniors, expanded the number of cars in its available fleet, and eventually allowed all people in Newton to use the rideshare service.
In Feb. 2022, Jake Auchincloss, the U.S. representative for Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District—which includes the city of Newton—took a drive in a NewMo car with Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and praised it as innovative.
NewMo provides an important service particularly for people who work in Newton, but also students and parents, according to Greg Reibman, the president and chief executive of the Charles River Regional Chamber.
“It helps workers with their last mile trip from the T station or wherever to their job, helps students do the same thing—either to get to their job or their internship,” Reibman said. “So it was a really good idea to help people with that filling in that gap for transportation and ultimately, you know, the way it was set up, you can go anywhere in Newton to any other place in Newton.”
Ostroff said that NewMo is helpful because of its relative affordability compared to other rideshare services.
“[NewMo] provided transportation options where public transit is not available in much of the city or as frequently as people need,” he said. “Frequently people would find—rather than riding alone—they may have two or three passengers in the car, which really helps to keep the cost down for everybody.”
Both Ostroff and Reibman said that NewMo relies heavily on outside funding, which was the main reason for the recent drawback of services.
One organization that has provided funding to NewMo, Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), worked with the city through its Community Connections program, according to Ethan Lapointe, the transportation improvement program manager at Boston MPO.
The Boston Region MPO contributed funding to NewMo’s initial launch and allocated $727,000 to the project’s first phase in fiscal years 2021 to 2023, according to a document from MPO. In total, MPO has committed $1,617,574 to NewMo in the fiscal years 2021 to 2025, Lapointe said in an email to The Heights.
Specifically, the NewMo service will only be available to older adults, individuals with disabilities, lower income residents, and a limited number of students with high needs in select Newton Public Schools (NPS) programs, Fuller announced in her newsletter on Aug. 17.
One reason NewMo could not keep up its services was due to a lack of corporate sponsors, according to Reibman.
“The original plan was to get companies, colleges, and things like that to buy corporate memberships so that their customers and employees can use the rights as often as they wanted to,” he said. “The real way that was gonna help [NewMo] in the long term was to get companies, or nonprofits—or anybody—to buy memberships to underwrite the cost.”
Ostroff said that the news is disappointing, but the city will continue to assess if NewMo’s services can return to serving all people in Newton.
“I feel that we were able to make this happen through Mayor Fuller’s leadership, and I’m confident that we will be able to bring the service back with that leadership and with state support,” he said. “We don’t have a timetable for when that will be, but every other city around looks to Newton as a success story.”
He said that, operationally, NewMo was a success, but that the city needs to solve the financial issues.
“Operationally NewMo was successful, serving 140,000 riders, you know, since its inception, but not everyone can achieve what Newton did,” Ostroff said. “But financially, it’s a challenge to provide that service. So we just need to find a way, you know, we know how to make it work, operationally, we just need to find a way to fund it sustainably.”