BRTA Considering New Loop Route for North Adams
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority is considering a new loop in North Adams as a way to get its riders where they need to go in a faster and cost-neutral manner.
Dubbed "Route 65" for the moment, the loop as currently proposed would start and end at the Walmart Supercenter on Curran Highway every hour starting at 6:30 a.m. Route 1 from Walmart south would continue until 6:30 p.m.
The loop route would hit the Ocean State Job Lots plaza (turnaround), Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Main Street, two stops at Mohawk Forest, Berkshire Medical Center North Adams, and then the reverse. The Walmart and Main Street stops would be timed to line up with Route 1 (Pittsfield-North Adams) and Route 3 (Williamstown-North Adams), respectively.
Currently, Route 1 travels from Pittsfield to Main Street, North Adams, but changes to Route 31 as it heads to Mohawk Forest. Then it changes Route 33 to BMC North.
The creation of the North Adams loop is expected to cut a half-hour of travel between the two cities.
Administrator Robert Malnati said the input from public hearings like Friday morning's at First Baptist Church would inform plans to be presented to the BRTA board of director next week. If approved, any changes would likely start near the beginning of November.
The wish list for years has been to add evening and possibly weekend services, he said. Those have consistently shown up on surveys dating back some years.
"If we had that extra money, this is how we would spend it," Malnati said the agency has told Beacon Hill. "We would implement later evening services, we would try out a few different routes, see how they go how that would be received and eventually morph into a Sunday service, maybe Saturday."
But that's not happening this year, he told the handful of residents at the public hearing on route changes.
"There is no extra money coming from the state, in fact, our budget is based on a budget from two years ago."
The regional transportation funding for the entire state has been set by the governor at $80 million; in fiscal 2015 and 2016, legislators had overridden that to bump up funding. RTAs had hoped for more in this fiscal year, but it didn't happen.
"We're stuck at an $82 million pot for us," Malnati said. "That translates to about $2.5 million for us. Fixed route service alone costs us over $4 million to put on the street as it is. ...
"What we're trying to do is tweak it and make it more user-friendly, to go where we need to go without incurring additional costs because we know it's not coming from the state."
Regular rider Yesmine Sarkis wondered if there was a way that customers could help.
"It affects the economy overall. People can't afford to go back and forth to work," she said. "I wish we could get the public on board as well."
Malnati, however, said the transit authority was heavily subsidized by the state and that raising fares as revenue would affect those who couldn't afford it.
Walmart was determined as a good waypoint because people often needed to go there whether working or shopping. In response to questions, Malnati said the company had in the past provided bus shelters for its stop but the BRTA had not approached it about further funding.
The idea was to develop more of an express along the routes by using the Walmart as a transfer point. A smaller bus would be used for the North Adams loop and riders would pick up the larger bus headed for Pittsfield.
"We want to make sure people understand that this should be the same amount of time and Walmart is not the end of the destination," Malnati said.
Kenneth Birck, also a regular rider, said riders are going to be worried about making their connections and transfers.
"There are going to be a lot of people unhappy ... because they have to transfer," he said.
A stop at the Cheshire post office on Route 1 would only be used on demand. That alleviated some of the concern raised by Richard Greene about safety issues with the large bus exiting from Richardson Street in Cheshire on its northbound runs. Malnati said they would look into a turnaround to have the bus return to Route 8 at the light on Church Street if it stops at the post office.
The Route 7 bus, which is subsidized in part by Williams College to provide access for its students to local schools and Pittsfield, may be discontinued or reduced to only morning and afternoon because of low ridership. Malnati said the route would be weighed at the end of the month when the numbers are in.
He also said off-service buses, those ending or starting their shifts, could be become active. It didn't make sense for a bus ending its run by going to Pittsfield, or starting by leaving Pittsfield, not to carry passengers.
Those attending did not have any comments specifically opposed to the route change but did warn that the BRTA may run into some problems.
Kenneth Birck, also a regular rider, said switching to a smaller bus could cause congestion at the beginning of the month because many people were doing their shopping at Walmart.
"Even the big buses get busy on the first of the month at Walmart," he said, especially with the added number of people using wheelchairs. "You're ridership is way up ... first of the month you see a huge increase in ridership."
Sarkis said the bus drivers are often in a situation where someone in a wheelchair or with too many items has to be left behind for the next bus.
"That poor driver is trying to be courteous but someone gets left behind," she said. "During that first part of the month, you might want to have the big bus."
They also suggested having a backup vehicle. Those who are eligible for paratransit don't always use it because of the cost, said Birck.
"That's something we're going to have to wrestle with. Do we need another bus and where would we stage it?" Malnati said.
There were also questions on small amounts left on Charlie Cards that bus drivers can't accept; those can be brought to the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield to be combined or added to. Malnati said the BRTA has no control over the administration of the cards.
People are also bringing their bikes more, which Malnati said was a good thing but which, at the same time, illustrated that the BRTA wasn't serving some populations because they needed bikes to get home because no buses were running. The authority now has two-bike racks on buses and is looking at installing three-bike ones.
Malnati also plans to ask the general manager about adding a transfer point in Allendale in Pittsfield because riders now have to go back to the Intermodal Center to pick up Route 1 back to North Adams.
Several people also encouraged the BRTA to have more information posted on buses to let riders know what was happening and said drivers should be able to provide updated information.
Both Birck and Sarkis said BRTA drivers, in general, were a conscientious and friendly group who often know their riders and their families.
"There's a genuine caring there," Sarkis said, calling the daily riders and drivers a kind of family. "They care about what's going on in our life."
Tags: BRTA, bus routes, public hearing,