FRTA listening to riders before making any route decisions
Recorder/Paul Franz A rider boards an FTRA bus at John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield. Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — Following hearings last week, Franklin Regional Transit Authority Administrator Tina Cote says one of the biggest complaints she’s hearing from riders is about the elimination of a bus route that has only four consistent riders.
At four public hearings the FRTA held last week, Cote said about 30 riders from throughout the county showed up to express their feelings and concerns.
“There weren’t any surprises,” said Cote. “We got some good feedback and some good ideas. Now, we’ll take them all into consideration and eventually the board will vote on changes.”
Cote said a couple of people were concerned about Route 23 into Amherst, which FRTA has thought about eliminating. She said instead, FRTA would add a trip to South Deerfield each day so that University of Massachusetts students and others could connect with Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s UMass bus line to get into Amherst.
“That’s not going to work for those of us who use the route to get to work,” said Arlene Jigarjian of Turners Falls. “That route has been in existence for 30 or more years.”
Jigarjian said if she has to transfer to three or four different buses, she probably won’t make it to work at Amherst College by 8 a.m. She said she currently has to make only one transfer. She is one of the four regular riders Cote spoke of.
“There may not be a lot of regulars, but over the course of a year, I’ve seen 75 to 100 people take that bus,” said Jigarjian.
The Route 23 bus currently leaves Greenfield, stops in Millers Falls and Montague Center, then stops along Route 63 and goes into Amherst.
Jigarjian said she is worried that people won’t hear about FRTA eliminating the route and will stand in the cold this fall or winter waiting.
Cote said Route 23 may not be eliminated completely. Instead, she said FRTA is looking at other possibilities to shorten the route. Perhaps, she said, it would leave Greenfield for Montague Center and then make a connection with PVTA’s UMass bus in Sunderland.
“We have to think about all of our routes and what is being used the most,” said Cote. “Increased ridership means increased funding for us.”
Cote said FRTA receives about $1.3 million from the state each year to cover the costs of its fixed routes. She said she expects that to increase by $49,000 this year and $125,000 next year.
“We are increasing ridership on some routes, so our funding is increasing,” said Cote. “We just have to pay attention to what makes the most sense.”
Cote said FRTA is trying to expand some services and shorten the time some of its riders have to spend on buses.
“We’ve proposed some changes, like Route 23, but that doesn’t mean they are going to happen,” said Cote. “We’re still looking at all of our options, and the board still has to vote.”
Cote said she understands that all of FRTA’s riders are important, but she said the local transit authority can’t concentrate on less-used bus routes, when there are others used frequently by many more riders.
“We’re trying to make connections for students at GCC and UMass,” she said. “Some are taking classes at both and have no way to get to Amherst.”
Cote said FRTA will try to make everyone happy, but that is sometimes difficult.
She said FRTA is also looking at ways to utilize the new “park and ride” areas in Whately, Charlemont and in Greenfield at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
“Currently, no one gets on in Charlemont and we don’t stop at the one in Greenfield,” she said. “We’re going to be looking at ways to market and promote ridership.”
She said Franklin Regional Council of Governments has agreed to help with marketing outreach.
“We’re also looking at keeping the transit center open later,” she said. “Overall, we want to provide the services that meet people’s needs.”
Cote said the transit center currently closes at 6 p.m. on weekdays and is not open on weekends, because buses do not run on weekends. Having buses run on weekends is something else FRTA is considering, but needs the funding first, she said.
Cote said FRTA is also thinking about eliminating stops at some of Greenfield’s larger apartment and assisted living complexes, including the Greenfield Acres “High Rise,” Weldon House and Mill House, because drivers are telling Cote that no one gets on the buses from there.
Instead, Cote said residents of those complexes are using Demand-Response buses, which allow them to call a day or two ahead and be picked up for their appointments or jaunts.
Another change FRTA is talking about is sending a small shuttle to the Corporate Center on Munson Street eight times a day.
Cote said enough people travel to the center, which houses the Department of Transitional Assistance, Department of Children and Families and the Veterans Center, to make it worth creating a special route.
“I just hope that they don’t leave some of us stranded,” said Jigarjian. “I don’t think that’s what John Olver intended when that huge bus center was built in his name.”