Car-free councilor travels city by T

December 16, 2011
By

She is the only woman sitting on City Council and the only minority woman ever to hold the office, but At-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is unique among her colleagues in another way.

She is the only city councilor without a driver’s license.

Pressley would not say on the record why she did not get a driver’s license. She said the three places she has lived—Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Boston—have all had accessible public transportation systems.

“My entire professional career has been in public outreach positions,” said Pressley, who worked for Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry prior to being elected to City Council. “Public transportation has really supported that.”

Her daily commute to City Hall from her home in the Ashmont area of Dorchester often earn her comparisons to Massachusetts’ most famous public transportation-taking politician, Michael Dukakis, she said.

Dukakis famously took the Green Line to work every day during the terms as governor, and still rides the train to his current job as a professor at Northeastern University.

“People oftentimes compare me to him, except I am not carrying a brown paper bag lunch,” Pressley said.

Particularly as an at-large city councilor with a citywide portfolio, Pressley often has to be in “five places at one,” she said.

But, she said, not having a driver’s license does not slow her down much in that regard. She usually has staffers drive her to community events throughout the city, which other city councilors also do, she said.

In addition to inspiring complementary political comparisons, using public transportation also helps her do her job better, Pressley said.

For one thing, it provides her with context for understanding constituents’ complaints about public transportation. “Because I tae the train, I literally get a front-row seat,” she said.

And her trips on Boston’s trolleys and buses often end up serving as impromptu office hours. “Recently, people have been asking me about Occupy Boston. When we were in the throes of the election, people were talking to me about that,” she said.

Pressley does not have any complaints about the city’s public transportation system beyond work-a-day gripes about train delays, Pressley said. But taking public transportation does have an effect on her policy positions. She was keenly aware of T accessibility issues during the debate about closing public libraries last year, and she is a huge advocate for transit-oriented development, she said.

Recently, some advocates have complained that a planned reshuffling of close to a dozen Boston Public Schools would leave public transportation-dependent parents with few options. Pressley said that is a valid concern. “It’s always a factor for me, particularly when it seems to disrupt families,” Pressley said.

But, overall, she supports the plan because it “replicates successful [school] models. That is something that does mean some disruption,” she said.