The future of public transport in the county is riding a revived Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus route linking the city and Williamstown.
It even has Wi-Fi.
The route, which had been curbed years ago due to lack of demand, has been restored thanks to a partnership between BRTA and local colleges. And it is serving as a test run for new wireless technology that eventually will be expanded to all BRTA routes.
"It's a way of introducing technology to the college kids to test it, break it and tell us what works and what doesn't before it gets rolled out systemwide," said Bob Malnati, assistant administrator of BRTA.
BRTA operates 10 other bus routes across the county every day -- all over Pittsfield as well as through south and north county. Eventually, BRTA plans to introduce wireless capabilities to all these routes.
The initiative to resume the Route 7 service -- billed by BRTA as an "express route" -- began as a conversation between BRTA and Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Berkshire Community College, Malnati said.
At a recent Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, Malnati said the service was restored in August and remains in its pilot phase. The two buses it utilizes are BRTA's first to feature wireless Internet. In this phase, the buses operate Monday through Friday beginning at 6:20 a.m., and make stops at six different locations every other hour until roughly 7 p.m.
Stops along the Route 7 line include the Intermodal Center and Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield; the Williams Inn and Paresky Center in Williamstown; and Stop & Shop in North Adams. Riders can also request stops. The fare is $1.25.
Despite little promotion, 194 people have boarded since the launch, Malnati said, and BRTA hopes to attract more -- like Harold Scutt, 69, of Pittsfield.
Scutt, who can't drive because of cataracts, said he'll soon board the line so he can pay a visit to an old friend, Myrna, a resident at Sweet Brook Care Center in Williamstown.
"She's been up there for three years and I haven't been able to see her in all that time," Scutt said Saturday at the city's Intermodal Center. "I had no way to get there. Now I hear there's this bus that passes right by the nursing home and I'll be able to go visit for a little while."
The BRTA employee working at the front desk of the center Saturday reported use of the Route 7 line by college students, working people -- such as the nurses at Sweet Brook and the nearby Sweetwood of Williamstown Retirement Living Community -- and Berkshire Mall shoppers.
Again with an eye to students, BRTA created an additional technological flair for the Route 7 line: QR codes which one can scan using a smartphone to discover when the next bus is due to arrive at any of the stops along the line. The codes are on printed cards available at the Intermodal Center.
Malnati said BRTA may add stops. Private enterprises like the nursing homes and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown both have expressed interest in becoming regular stops, and that could generate revenue to help sustain the service, Malnati said.
To reach Phil Demers:
or (413) 464-1527
On Twitter: @BE_PhilD
History of the BRTA
Created by state statute in 1974, BRTA counts 24 Berkshire cities and towns among its members. Fixed routes run through 12 of these communities and specialized transportation through 17. Passenger trips number roughly 500,000 per year and have risen in recent years.
PIttsfield's $11 million Intermodal Center, located at 1 Columbus Ave., was completed in 2004 after more than 20 years of planning. Federal and state funds covered the entire cost of the project.
For more information, visit www.berkshirerta.com.