Legislative Session The 'Moment In Time' For BRTA
Gary Shepard says he could increase ridership by nearly 70 percent if all of his plans were funded.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — This upcoming legislative session is the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority's "moment in time."
BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard says it is time for "economic and environmental justice" when state lawmakers tackle transportation funding.
"This upcoming legislative session, particularly with the budget, will be very important," Shepard told the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission on Thursday. "This is probably our moment in time."
Transportation funding is eyed to be a major battle in the state Legislature. On Wednesday, Gov. Deval Patrick called for further investment in transportation funding during his State of the State address.
"In transportation, we can no longer tell regions of the state, like the South Coast or Western Mass., to wait to share in the state's prosperity," he said.
Locally, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier has set her primary focus on fighting for funding and Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli is calling for the county to receive "the lion's share" of the $28 million currently generated from the county for transportation.
Shepard was asked to present the organization's 10-year goals and Shepard says he has a lot he'd like to accomplish but it will all depend on what type funding come out of the state overhaul.
Primarily, he would like to extend hours and days of service with bidirectional routes. The buses lack ridership because they do not run on Sundays, do not have buses going the both directions on a route and shortened hours. Currently, the buses do not run after 7 p.m. so those who work at night are unable to use the system.
"We started providing bidirectional routes in Pittsfield and ridership increased by 30 percent," Shepard said. "That is without changing hours."
People don't want to take the bus because while it could take 10 minutes to get to a destination, returning would be closer to an hour. Shepard said currently to get from one end of the county to the other, it would take as long as a flight to London.
BRPC members encouraged everyone to write state officials in support of transportation funding.
"Why are we allowing this to happen? Where is the environmental justice? Where is the economic justice?" Shepard said.
Currently some $27 million generated from a penny on the sales tax is generated from the county. But, only $1.8 million comes back to support transportation here. The majority goes to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.
"I can't get people to work on Sundays. The MBTA can but they use our share of the pennies to do it," he said.
But beyond just having an operating system, Shepard said he'd like bus terminals in North Adams and Great Barrington, a transfer station in Allendale, further explore programs that would allow route alterations and incorporate more technology so residents know when the bus will arrive.
"We're trying to make it as as user friendly as possible," Shepard said. "I know we can do better. We want to do better. But, we need the resources."
Shepard said that that if the state raised the sales tax in the eastern part of the state and just allowed the county to keep everything they generated, he'd be able to do everything he wants and even assist the roadways.