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Orange FRTA hearing draws from smaller towns

ORANGE — Citizens of small towns have a big interest in busing.

The Franklin Regional Transit Authority is seeking to improve its bus service, and gathering the public’s opinion to justify requests for increased state and federal funding. And on Tuesday, the FRTA held its fourth and final public forum in the Orange Armory.

Though FRTA Director Tina Cote said the Athol and Orange bus route is one of the agency’s most popular daily routes, the two communities were not represented in the forum’s small audience.

Instead, residents of some of the county’s smaller towns came out to have their voices heard.

Maria Bertallot, who lives in Leyden with her aging mother, hopes her town can make it onto FRTA’s map.

“We have no service whatsoever, even for my mother, who’s a senior,” said Bertallot. “We only have one car, so if I’m in the office, she can’t get anywhere.”

Bertallot works as an interpreter for medical patients, and is often on-call, having to rush to Greenfield or beyond at a moment’s notice. Though she is mobile enough to walk around town and can still drive their shared car, Bertallot worries that her mother could be left stranded in Leyden in an emergency.

She said she’d also use a bus for day-to-day errands if she could, so she wouldn’t have to use her car so much. She’d also like to have an alternate way for her mother to get to doctors’ appointments, the Greenfield YMCA and social activities.

“Even one bus a month would help,” she said.

At Cote’s advice, Bertallot said she would take her case to her town’s Board of Selectmen.

Towns served by the FRTA pay an assessment to defray costs, based on the amount of service received. Cote said these can be as little as $7 for small towns with volunteer van service, or more than $100,000 for places like Greenfield, with a large population and several routes running through town.

While Leyden isn’t a member of FRTA, most Franklin County towns are, as well as localities in Berkshire, Hampshire and Hampden counties.

Wendell is one of those towns served by on-demand vans for the disabled and elderly. One resident thinks there’s a market for a bigger bus on a fixed route through town.

“I think if we had a well-timed bus going to Greenfield, people from Wendell would take it,” said Jonathan von Ranson.

“People from Wendell commute to Greenfield, Athol and Orange, and the Amherst and Northampton areas,” he said.

While all-day service might be a stretch, von Ranson said even two daily buses for commuters, in the morning and early evening, could attract a lot of riders from his town.

He thinks the town’s current on-demand service would also see more use if more people knew about it.

Von Ranson said he’s already made a pitch to the Wendell Selectboard, asking them to support increased service to the town.

“They were very excited and encouraging,” he said.

The next step for von Ranson is to reach out to his townspeople, so they can show the FRTA that Wendell is serious about taking the bus.

Maureen Mullaney, of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said the wishes of people like Bertallot and von Ranson are shared by many in the county’s smaller, more remote towns. From what she’s heard, people want earth-friendly options for themselves and more service for the elderly, she said.

Those who missed the forums are encouraged to submit comments in a written letter, through email, or online.

Written comments can be sent to FRTA, 474 Main St., Greenfield, MA 01301. You can also email FRTA’s Assistant Administrator Michael Perrault at michael@frta.org, or Meghan Rhodes of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments at mrhodes@frcog.org.

A web-based survey can be found on the FRTA website, at goo.gl/vqB2Tv.

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, at goo.gl/1eSxQB

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 Follow on Twitter: @RecorderRain

Leyden needs public transportation. The "$7 for small towns" mentioned in the article is per year? Thank you.

I agree that public transportation in Leyden would be great and I think that those that agree should send a letter or e-mail to the Town requesting that it be funded. The Town will need to see that the community is interested in having this service.

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