Gary Shepard, left, Adam Falk and Benjamin Downing discuss the new routes during an announcement at the Harper Center on Friday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority is launching a pilot bus run down Route 7, connecting North County to Pittsfield in a much quicker fashion.
The route is an extension of a partnership with Williams College, which previously identified a need to connect students with jobs, internships and the Berkshire community. The route runs from Stop & Shop in North Adams to Berkshire Medical Center, with stops along the way.
Riders can request additional stops and pickups as well with a "call/tell" system, allowing the drivers to deviate routes according to needs. Two new mini buses — both equipped with a trial Wi-Fi connection — will run the route about a half dozen times a day. The earliest route run at 6:20 a.m.
The school is taking the money they would have spent running their own system to help BRTA expand — freeing up the school's resources of management and allowing the company to achieve goals they previously eyed quicker. The BRTA is also using some of a federal grant for the new route.
According to Williams College professor Paula Consolini, who headed the effort, the school identified a need for connecting the students with the community.
"This originated from a study group on community engagement," Consolini said. "We knew it. But we got confirmation that transportation was a problem with getting students into the community."
The college initially ran a Route 2 run with its own shuttle bus but the demand was so great the college reached out to the BRTA. That initial partnership proved to be successful and the college and BRTA launched another pilot to extend hours, and now have added the Route 7 corridor.
"Coming to Williams is about coming to Williamstown and the Berkshires," said Williams President Adam Falk.
As for the BRTA, the Route 7 expansion is something it's been eyeing for years. The public transportation organization stopped the route nearly 20 years ago but there are still nursing homes, businesses, shopping, recreation and educational facilities that would benefit from the service.
"Route 7 is rich with opportunity," said BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard. "We are filling an opportunity that exists. It's always been part of our long-range plans."
Government, business and educational officials were all on the bus Friday morning.
On Friday, representatives from BRTA, Williams, Berkshire Community College, state Sen. Benjamin Downing and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi joined in a bus tour around a portion of the new route. The bus made stops at Stop & Shop, Wild Oats, the Clark Art Institute, Mount Greylock Regional High School and the Williams campus and at each, a representative from the business or institute spoke highly of the opportunity to increase traffic.
"This just gives us flexibility that we didn't have," said Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald, adding that the school is planning on using the service to transport students on small field trips or with tutors without having to increase their own spending on transportation.
The high school activity was something Shepard said had not been anticipated. The focus was to help connect elderly with health-care institutions on top of working with Williams students. Mount Greylock's participation was a welcomed addition.
Cariddi, who sits on the state Joint Committee on Transportation, said public transit is important in building strong communities. Downing said public transit is a "social safety net" in connecting residents with health-care services as well as an economic driver by getting workers to their jobs.
"It's all about the riders and building the ridership," Cariddi said. "It is most gratifying that our own BRTA is making use of the resources they have."
Falk said it is important that the college is in a "strong community," so for Williams, it is not just simply connecting students with jobs.
"All of us benefit when public transportation gets better," he said.
Shepard said the program will be reassessed in the spring and administrators will continually adjust the operations to fit needs.