PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County commuters can rest easy knowing that local bus service — paratransit and fixed routes — will continue to operate on a normal schedule — at least through the weekend.
As for what will happen Monday, that remained unclear Thursday night amid the ongoing threat of a strike by drivers.
"I know the top thing on everyone's minds is what is happening [Friday]," Berkshire Regional Transit Authority Administrator Robert Malnati said at the start of the 4 p.m. board meeting Thursday. "I wish I could tell you, but my crystal ball is not working."
But just in time for the end of the meeting, about an hour later, Malnati received a text message alerting him that the union that represents BRTA's paratransit drivers, which voted to authorize a strike beginning on or around Nov. 16, will not be walking out Friday.
The contract in dispute is between the BRTA's paratransit drivers and a First Transit subsidiary, Paratransit Management of the Berkshires, which has operated the BRTA's on-call bus service since July 2016.
A strike of paratransit drivers might affect regular BRTA bus service, as the drivers share the same union.
The authority provides paratransit service for mobility-impaired residents by ambulatory van or chair car (a van with a wheelchair lift), according to the BRTA website.
Malnati said he received several calls from customers who were concerned about whether there would be bus service Friday, but he didn't have any answers for them. He said during the meeting that he was frustrated that it was less than 15 hours until the start of Friday's service and he hadn't yet heard about the plans.
The Pittsfield unit of Teamsters Local 404, which represents the drivers, didn't return several calls for comment this week.
There were several close calls for BRTA strikes last winter, but they were narrowly averted after negotiations between the same two groups.
The BRTA provides about 50,000 rides each month on the fixed-route service, and 4,000 to 5,000 rides on the paratransit buses, according to Malnati.
"A lot of those people are on dialysis or chemo," Malnati said of the paratransit riders. "A couple of people go two to three times a week, at least."
The last known strike of fixed-route drivers was in 2003 and lasted 10 days, Malnati said.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.