BRTA trims some service, raises rates and plots night service pilot

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PITTSFIELD — Regular riders of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority will lose some service and face fare increases in the coming weeks, but down the road, they might also see some long-awaited evening service.

BRTA leaders have "been talking forever" about extending service into the evening hours, Administrator Bob Malnati said during a Thursday board meeting. Local authorities need to show the state that they're thinking creatively about resources, BRTA leaders agreed, and so they'll sacrifice some underperforming service if it leads to a likely pilot program this year.

"That's the payoff," Malnati told the board. "We're trying to get more ridership."

After months of deliberation, the board voted unanimously during the meeting to approve a rate increase for Charlie Card users, and to shave back some service in order to close a $233,000 budget deficit. The changes take effect Sept. 1.

The 10 percent rate increase means that rates for Charlie Card users will jump from $1.40 a trip to $1.55 for short trips, and from $3.60 to $4 for system-wide trips.

The services changes include discontinuing Route 21's 4:30 p.m. express loop to Great Barrington; eliminating Saturday morning and midday runs on Routes 5, 13, 15 and 16 from West Pittsfield and Lanesborough; combining Lanesborough and Hancock Routes 5 and 13; discontinuing Route 3S from Williamstown to North Adams, adding one 2:30 p.m. run; and shifting all on-call hours to 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays.

The board previously considered reducing service to Great Barrington instead of the rate increase, but Malnati told board members Thursday that's off the table because excluding certain environmental justice populations in Great Barrington, such as low-income and minority residents, would constitute a civil rights violation.

Gov. Charlie Baker's budget includes additional money that transit authorities can ask for later in the year, after the formation of a state task force, which will study regional public transit. The budget also includes the requested $88 million for regional transit authorities statewide, but $6 million is on hold until the task force completes its review.

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Malnati said the BRTA typically only sees a small percentage of such allocations, and so he expects the Berkshires will see about $62,000. That would be enough to pilot evening service along strategically selected routes.

Malnati and board members agreed that they'll need to solicit public feedback and conduct research before pitching the pilot program.

Sheila Irvin, the board's newly elected chairwoman, said she is excited to start looking into the pilot possibility. She had not wanted to raise rates, but she said evening service might help the same working population taking the rate hit. She and Malnati said they'd like to see evening service help more people get to work in places like retail and restaurants, and also serve seniors seeking a ride to cultural events.

"That would be just a major addition," Irvin said. "It's going to take a lot of research, but I think it's a powerful start."

While the previous board meeting was sparsely attended, Thursday's meeting was a full house.

New board member Jim Lovejoy, representing Mount Washington on the transit board, said he thinks that reflects a new wave of town leaders realizing "we've got to start making it work for us."

"In order to do that, we need to participate," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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