Saturday February 23, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, which operates the "B" bus public transit system, will begin holding public hearings next week on its proposed new fare structure.

Meetings in North Adams and Pittsfield are scheduled to take place on Monday, while a third meeting is scheduled for Tuesday in Great Barrington. The public may learn more about and comment on the new bus fare pricing structure at these meetings.

The North Adams meeting takes place at 10:30 a.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall. The Pittsfield meeting is slated for 1:30 p.m. in the BRTA’s board room in the Intermodal Center on Columbus Avenue. The Great Barrington meeting on Tuesday starts at 10 a.m. in the town fire station’s meeting room on 37 State Road. The BRTA’s new automated fare boxes will be on display at each meeting.

The proposal, which the BRTA’s advisory board approved at its November meeting, has been structured to streamline the agency’s cumbersome zone structure while remaining revenue-neutral. Unlimited ride pass options are also on the table, along with a proposal that would allow the BRTA to participate in the Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority’s CharlieCard program.

Introduced by the MBTA in 2006, a CharlieCard is a plastic smart card with a built-in chip that is used for electronic ticketing. It keeps a cash balance and holds a combination of time-based passes that allows the holder to receive unlimited rides over a specific time period. The card’s stored value is also valid on both the MBTA and other systems operated by regional transit authorities across the state.

The BRTA received federal funding that allowed it to access the program this year. BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard said the card is intended to take the place of bus passes.

"It’s more efficient," Shepard said. "I think it’s a way to increase ridership and get new ridership."

In a recent survey of its ridership, Shepard said the BRTA found that 56 percent of the roughly 190 respondents were in favor of monthly bus passes, while 83 percent indicated that they would use a CharlieCard.

"We’re being responsive to what our customers are requesting," he said.

Under the BRTA’s proposal, a full single ride local fare would cost $1.40 with a CharlieCard and $1.75 without one. A local half fare for cardholders would drop from 85 cents to 70 cents.

A systemwide full, single-ride fare would drop from $4.50 to $3.60 for CharlieCard holders, with the half fare dropping from $2.25 to $1.80.

For $26, students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade can purchase a 30-day systemwide pass.

College students can purchase a similar pass for $250 per semester.

If you go....

The schedule of BRTA’s public meetings during which citizens can provide input on the public transit authority’s
proposed fare structure.

Monday: City Council Chambers, 10 Main St., North Adams, 10:30 a.m.-noon.

Monday: BRTA Board Room, 1 Columbus Ave., Pittsfield, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Tuesday: Fire station meeting room, 37 State Road, Great Barrington, 10-11:30 a.m.

The BRTA will be accepting public comments on the proposed fare structure until March 18. Information on the proposal can be accessed at berkshirerta.com by clicking on "public announcements."