Tuesday November 6, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Williams College and the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority have new ways of going mobile.

This fall, BRTA is offering a pilot expansion of weekday bus service between Williamstown and North Adams now through the first week of December. The service is open to the community as well.

The new service also includes a pilot texting option in which riders can notify the bus company of their presence at one of the new "On Demand" bus stops via text. Smartphone users can use a new free phone application, RouteShout, to follow the BRTA bus.

The goal of the program, which was proposed by a 13-member "Bus With Us Planning Group" from Williams, is to improve access to educational, work, and shopping opportunities in the region.

"This is a very timely experiment," said Paula Consolini, coordinator of Experiential Education at Williams and head of the planning group. "If ridership increases substantially during this fall semester pilot, we will be able to make the case for more and better service in our area."

Williams is paying for the free service offered to members of the college's community, which is roughly the same cost the college had been spending to run its own transportation for students. Consolini said she hopes the pilot program, once evaluated, will show enough use to be able to continue service and possibly expand the model to other school areas.

Both organizers at Williams and BRTA say they have been getting positive feedback since the program began on Sept. 10.

BRTA General Manager Mark Mc Clanan said that a recent survey indicated that the new service loop was used by 150 student riders in a week.

"We definitely think it's a valuable service," McClanan said. "Each week it looks like more and more people are hearing about it and using it. We've received positive feedback from students and individuals in the town who say they love the fact that there is more service out there."

The new route increases weekday service frequency between Williamstown to North Adams from hourly to every 30 minutes on the No. 3 line between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. McClanan also said he's seen an increase in students taking the regular Saturday bus to North Adams.

The new service is open to all riders. Williams students, faculty and staff can ride the weekday No. 3 buses (both the new and regular bus route) for free when they show their college ID. The new route includes new scheduled stops at 51 Park St. in Williamstown (across from the Williams College Paresky Center), Wild Oats Food Co-op, and Brayton Elementary School in North Adams.

These special stops will also be available "On Demand" on the regular hourly runs, if a rider notifies the BRTA at least 10 minutes in advance of intent to ride.

The experiment also allows users to text (413) 242-2034 to let the BRTA know they are waiting at an "On Demand" stop. BRTA communications staff will pass the location and traveling direction information to the driver if the text is received 10 to 15 minutes in advance of the bus passing through the area. Passengers can also notify the BRTA by calling (413) 499-2782, or if at a visible stop along the route, by waving to the bus driver.

New signs bearing a "Bus with Us!" logo will soon be posted on and around campus to encourage more people to take advantage of the expanded service.

Consolini said the increase in services makes is "more convenient for other people to ride," and gives Williams students more access to work, whether it be an off campus job or volunteer program, like the afterschool tutoring program at Brayton and Greylock elementary schools.

"It made sense to use the local bus service," Consolini said.

For a free phone application, Route Shout, visit berkshirerta.com. For a unified bus schedule, visit experi ential.williams.edu/buswithus.