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Editorial: Bus riders

What comes first: the schedule or the riders?

It’s just one of the dilemmas confronting the Franklin Regional Transit Authority in providing public transportation for the county.

That mission includes more than maintaining a coverage area that FRTA Administrator Tina Cote says is “... the largest area of any transit authority in the state, an area of 1,100 square miles.”

We believe it should also add a bus schedule that runs buses in the evening and on weekends.

Cote says that what’s keeping the FRTA from adding nighttime and weekend service is its budget — state and federal dollars plus funding through assessments to the service area’s communities and fares. Right now that amounts to $3 million, which Cote says leaves no room for expansion, given all the costs the FRTA has to cover.

Ridership, Cote says, is the key ... and it’s rising. Cote said that this year there was an increase of 30,000 rides, for a total of 150,000.

“Maybe if we can show the federal and state that we are consistently increasing ridership, we’ll get more,” Cote said.

That’s probably true. But there is a point where the existing schedule reaches its limit. To attract additional ridership, you’re are going to have to offer weekend and nighttime service.

We want to think that Cote understands this and is doing all that she can to advocate for more money in this regard. But we also know that it’s unreasonable to think that she can do it alone. This is a time where the region’s state legislators as well as our congressional representatives should get involved. While the region lost a powerful voice for public transportation in the U.S. House of Representatives with the retirement of John Olver, there’s no reason to think that Reps. James McGovern and Richard Neal can’t step forward to lend a hand here.

It also makes sense for the county’s residents to sign the petition associated with the “Buses for the People” campaign that seeks to send a message to state government that Franklin County should receive more money for expanded service. (To find out more about the petition or the sponsor, Transportation Justice for Franklin County Mass., go to its Facebook page.)

In the meantime, the FRTA should try to configure its schedule to try to offer some weekend service. While it might be slow to catch on, we suspect that ridership would build.

What comes first? In this case it’s the schedule.

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