Periodically, a Boston bureaucrat from one government agency or another -- Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles are past examples -- will decide that a Berkshire office should be closed in the interest of "centralization." The argument is invariably the same, the logic is invariably faulty, and there is rarely any evidence that the decision-makers have any knowledge of the Berkshires beyond its location on a map.
The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (HHS) has decided that the county's non-emergency medical transportation services, currently handled by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) and local transportation companies, can be done more efficiently by the regional transit authority based in Fitchburg (Eagle, Feb. 24.) The north-central community is a long way from the Berkshires, especially the Berkshire communities bordering Connecticut, and that authority cannot better serve the users of this service, many of whom have serious health problems, than the local BRTA.
HHS thinks this consolidation will save money, but the reason the BRTA's average cost per trip is the second-highest in the state is because of the county's substantial size. Arranging transportation services in Fitchburg won't change this geographic reality but it could affect users who shouldn't be penalized for living far from Boston. State officials also want to find "the lowest cost trip," which indicates that nothing has been learned from the state's disastrous experience with its renovated unemployment benefits website. Hiring a bidder on the cheap often means that you will get exactly what you pay for. In contrast, Berkshire providers like County Rainbow Taxi have already proven their quality, and also know the logistics of traveling the Berkshires first-hand through actual experience. This can't be said of a company from Springfield or Northampton that could, for no other reason than it is larger, offer a lower bid.
It is appalling, but not at all shocking, that HHS did not bother to get an opinion on this significant move from BRTA Executive Director Gary Shepard. This is a bad plan for the BRTA, for Berkshire businesses and for Berkshire residents with health issues and long-term medical conditions who need this service, and the arguments for it consist of so much pie in the sky. Governor Deval Patrick, a part-time resident of Richmond, is one Boston official with a keen knowledge of the Berkshires, and we urge him to prevent one of his agencies from executing this ill-considered proposal.