The less-than-optimal transportation service provided by the financially strapped Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority is no secret to people who depend on the public buses the most — those with no other way to get to and from work. Thanks to a shift in federal funding of the BRTA several years ago, night-shift and Sunday workers have been out of luck when it comes to traveling more than walking or biking distance— unless they use taxis or rideshare services like Uber, both of which take a large bite out of take-home pay.
Happily, Berkshirites finally have a new alternative in the form of a plucky start-up cooperative venture — a transportation service that both prioritizes the hours that BRTA buses don't run, but also, thanks to its current non-profit status, accepts its "donations" (fares) on a sliding scale based on ability to pay (Eagle, Nov. 25.) Rose & Cole's Co-op Transport, a month-old business, is the brainchild of Berkshire residents Terry Moore, Ed Rose, Nicole Fecteau, Michael Hitchcock and Karen Hine. Ms. Fecteau, who has experience with cooperative ventures, is director of Roots & Dreams and Mustard Seeds, two incubators that help spawn co-ops. Rose & Cole, for now, shelters under their aegis in order to qualify for certain grants.
It is critically important that private enterprises spring up to fill a gap in the provision of public services when government falls short of its responsibility to citizens. At Rose & Cole, drivers are volunteers and they work only for the satisfaction of helping others and with the hope that someday the venture will bring in enough to pay them a living wage. According to Ms. Fecteau, the money the operation earns goes toward paying commercial insurance for its vehicles, but as the customer base grows (and we're talking a lot of potential repeat business here), it will, with luck, convert into a Limited Liability Corporation with driver-operators, just like its more well-known worldwide competitors.
Rose & Cole hopes to eventually provide a living to drivers who have no car of their own, by furnishing a company car for them to use. The drivers also run errands, like restaurant deliveries and laundry drop-off and pickup service. Its website lists suggested fares for various distances, but riders are free to negotiate lower rates with individual drivers if they can't afford the listed price.
Rose & Cole is currently in discussions with the BRTA about some kind of arrangement that would more formally fill the gap in the latter's service schedule. This would certainly help to guarantee an income source for the startup that would help it succeed in the long run, but as much as a year could pass before such plans come to fruition. Beacon Hill must also crack down on Boston's chronically mismanaged MBTA, which sucks down transportation dollars that the BRTA and other transportation agencies require.
Cooperative ventures such as this grassroots, locally-grown ride service benefit everyone — the providers, those in need and the community. Should Rose & Cole's demonstrate over time that it can provide a reliable, low-cost service, it could earn its place as part of the solution to the Berkshires' transportation problems. It also opens up possibilities for similar ventures in areas like food, clothing and other categories where potential customers are locked out because of high prices.
So the next time we need a ride, it might behoove all of us to think beyond the major players. We'd not just be getting from here to there, we'd be doing something for our community.