FRTA forum: More buses would lead to more riders

GREENFIELD — The key to making public transportation work in Franklin County could be a combination of weekend and evening service, a schedule that better suits the area’s workers, and removing the stigma of being a “bus rider.”

That was the consensus of the second of four community forums hosted by the Franklin Regional Transit Authority and Franklin Regional Council of Governments Wednesday afternoon.

The FRTA and other transit authorities in the state are gathering public comments and analyzing their services as they prepare to file for state funding.

Penny Ricketts, candidate for Precinct 5 town councilor, said she took the bus to her job at Home Depot for eight months when her car was broken. She said she was embarrassed at first, but quickly got over it.

Ricketts said she thinks the stigma around public transportation would fade if people gave the buses a chance.

“I think people ought to take the bus for a week or two, to see what it’s really like. It’s mostly just people that are going to work, or trying to save some gas on the way to Amherst.”

She said she enjoyed the cheap ride to and from work, but was discouraged to find there were no buses to take her to her Saturday and Sunday shifts.

“On the weekends, it was a $14 cab ride to get to work. Some of our younger workers can’t afford it, and sometimes they couldn’t get to work on the weekends.”

Ricketts said bus scheduling also fails those who don’t work a 9-to-5.

“I know one man who works at Argotec (in the industrial park) on a 12-hour shift. He can take the bus in at 8 a.m., but there’s no bus to get home.”

While the bus schedule doesn’t suit some workers, the retired population would like some improvements to the service as well.

Hope Macary, director of the Greenfield Council on Aging, said transportation is a frequent topic of discussion at the town’s senior center.

“Our seniors are very appreciative of the (bus) service, but they’re also extremely frustrated, because they’re not as well-served as they’d like,” said Macary.

She mentioned one senior, who left her home at the high-rise, boarded a bus, and arrived at the Senior Center, less than a mile away, an hour later.

Macary said that none of the senior center’s clientele made it out to the meeting Wednesday, though she was glad to see several community leaders, candidates and others in attendance.

Though FRTA Director Tina Cote said the forums were scheduled during busing hours to encourage riders to attend, a poll of the audience revealed that 67 percent of the 18 there said they never ride the bus.

Others at the forum argued that evening and weekend service between Greenfield and Turners Falls would benefit residents and businesses in both towns. A cab ride between the two, they said, costs as much as $10 each way, and can keep people from crossing the river to attend events or do some shopping.

Attorney Isaac Mass, running for Greenfield councilor-at-large, asked the agencies to consider ways to get more courthouse patrons to use the bus.

He said he sees people walking from the temporary Munson Street courthouse on a daily basis, in an area with no sidewalks. It’s a safety concern, he said, as well as a missed opportunity to increase ridership.

Chances to be heard

Though the public forums will wrap up next week, the FRTA and FRCOG will continue to gather comments and data through September, and will host smaller focus groups to reach stakeholders and special interest groups during the summer.

Others are encouraged to hold their own meetings.

“If people want to have their own (forums), we’d be happy to talk there as well,” said Megan Rhodes, senior transportation and land use planner for the FRCOG. “We will take this show on the road.”

The next forum will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday in the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center. East county residents will have their chance to be heard during the final forum, from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Orange Armory.

Those who can’t make it to the daytime forums are encouraged to submit their comments in a written letter or email. You can email FRTA’s Assistant Administrator Michael Perrault at michael@frta.org, or Rhodes at the FRCOG, Rhodes, at mrhodes@frcog.org. Written comments can also be sent to FRTA, 474 Main St., Greenfield, MA 01301.

A Twitter hashtag #FRTACommunityTalks has also been set up to gather comments, and the FRTA’s Facebook page, at:

goo.gl/G7Xfw0

as well as the FRCOG’s Facebook:

goo.gl/1eSxQB

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