PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority has received $2 million in federal funding to invest in an existing transportation system and set up a call center to help military veterans and their families take advantage of transportation opportunities.
BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard said the funds will allow the organization to complete its rural Intelligent Transportation System, which helps schedule and dispatch motor vehicles for veterans’ needs.
The funds also will be used to establish a "One Call/One Click Trans portation Center" that will be located on the first floor of the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center on Columbus Avenue. An art gallery connected to Berkshire Community Col lege currently is located in that space.
The call-in center is expected to simplify access to transportation by connecting customers in one place to rides and transportation options that are provided by a variety of providers and programs.
Shepard said the completion of one initiative and the installation of the other will make it "a lot easier" for veterans to access transportation opportunities in the Berkshires.
"You can get lost in a maze of government service community based organizations," Shephard said. "This will help veterans and their families in scheduling. A lot of it is like one-stop shopping. It simplifies the process.
The Soldier On veterans facility and the Berkshire Chapter of the American Red Cross are listed as the BRTA’s partners for the funding, but Shepard said all military veterans and their family members are eligible.
"I think we are very fortunate to receive this money," Shepard said.
The funding was awarded through the Federal Transportation Administration’s Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative. The VTCLI is an innovative, federally coordinated partnership that makes it easier for military veterans, active service members, and others to learn about and arrange for available transportation services that connect them with work, education, health care and other vital services in their communities.
"Approximately 4 in 10 veterans live in rural areas with limited access to affordable public transportation," said U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, who helped the BRTA receive the funding along with U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
"This funding allows the BRTA to enhance their services, thereby providing veterans and their families with convenient access to the transportation they need in order to further their education, reach their place of employment, receive medical treatment, and take advantage of a variety of community services," he said in a statement.
The BRTA serves 22 towns and two cities in Berkshire County with rural fixed bus routes and paratransit services. A total of 517,000 riders are serviced by the BRTA’s 14 bus routes, 11 of which are in Pittsfield.
Soldier On has received an additional $200,000 in federal funding for the third year of its incarcerated veterans transition program. The funding comes from the Homeless Veterans Reintegration program, which also provided $300,000 to Soldier On to provide employment training for military veterans in 18 counties of eastern New York.
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