Hearings set as BRTA shapes wish-list on after-hours service

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At three public hearings this week, the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority will fill in data points on a vexing puzzle: how to get people who rely on public transportation to after-hours shifts with Berkshire employers.

But they need voices to do that. Daytime public hearings are scheduled Wednesday and Thursday this week in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington.

"There still is a lot of manufacturing in the area and people can't get to where they need to go," said Robert Malnati, the BRTA administrator. "It's very difficult for people working the second shift, or in retail or hospitality, to get around."

Malnati said he's hoping the meetings draw comments from employers and employees alike.

Limits in public transportation are known to depress the number of prospective employees, contributing to a labor shortage cited by companies around the region.

Simply put, the problem begins when BRTA buses stop running at 6 p.m.

Malnati said legislators gathered last winter to explore the issue, which also extends into Sundays, when the BRTA fleet does not roll.

With help from a consultant, McMahon Associates, the authority is mapping specific needs for additional service. The study is underwritten by a grant from the state Department of Transportation.

The data will arm lawmakers to press for new state backing, Malnati said. It remains to be seen how new transit service would be provided and paid for, he said.

Solutions may include contributions from employers.

"Do we play a role in that? Or is it an entrepreneurial thing? Malnati asked.

The problem even affects the timing of this week's hearings. All are scheduled during the day, when many working people could find it hard to attend.

But the target audience is people who travel for work at night. If the meetings convened after the regular working day, those people would not have had public transit available.

Audiences at the hearings will first learn what's been discovered about particular transit gaps in the Berkshires.

Malnati said the authority has been working to identify which employers struggle most with limited bus service.

And then, he said, the second big question is this: Where do the employees live?

"Let's get some hard data behind it," he said, describing the project's goals.

For instance, while it's known that certain South County towns are home to hospitality businesses, where do most of their employees live — and how might a new transit option be a game-changer?

"We hear about it all the time," Malnati said of the transit shortage. "It's not going away. There hasn't been a viable solution proposed on how to do this."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.

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