FRTA to act on controversial route changes
COG protests eliminating route
The Franklin Regional Transit Authority is poised to act today on a set of schedule and route changes that have drawn criticism from town and regional officials for leaving some parts of the county underserved, and lacking coordination with the Pioneer Valley Regional Transition Authority to the south.
In addition to complaints from selectmen in Montague and Leverett, the plan has been criticized by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments for eliminating one University of Massachusetts route through Montague Center and Leverett that would leave those towns’ riders having to travel through Greenfield to get to Amherst.
The FRTA Advisory Board is scheduled to vote on the proposals, which would take effect next March, at 4 p.m. today in John W. Olver Regional Transportation Center’s downstairs conference room.
FRTA Administrator Tina Cote told The Recorder Tuesday, “We may put these changes off. I don’t know how my board is going to vote. That’s something we may propose. There have been some revisions made, and things will be announced at the meeting. ”
But she also characterized many of the critics of the proposed schedule as being misinformed, and said, “There’s just a lot of speculation that people are going to come to their own determinations ...”
The Nov. 21 letter from COG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy praised the FRTA for agreeing to increase service between Greenfield and Orange, to stop its UMass Connector buses at the new Whately Park and Ride area and to adjust the Greenfield Corporate Center Shuttle to allow for employees there to travel to and from the downtown during weekday lunch hours.
A new eight-times a day Corporate Center shuttle to the Munson Street center would take effect just as Franklin County Courthouse functions move to temporary quarters there.
But the letter also urged better coordination between FRTA and PVTA buses at the Whately stop, allowing residents in towns like Ashfield and Conway, “who do not have access to regular fixed route transit service, to be able to drive to the Park and Ride and take the bus to Amherst,” to avoid Route 116 congestion in the process.
It also questioned the failure of FRTA to coordinate its Orange-to-Greenfield service along Route 2 with a connection through Millers Falls and Montague Center to Amherst and contends that with the proposed changes, low-income populations of Greenfield, Turners Falls and Orange aren’t well served, and those in Montague Center traveling south would be required to transfer twice, in Greenfield and South Deerfield, with layovers at some of those connections.
“It is clear from other feedback you have received from the Towns of Montague and Leverett that there is not regional consensus on the proposed changes. The FRCOG strongly suggests that the FRTA Board postpone the implementation of the route changes” until there can be coordination with PVTA and further analysis on Montague and eastern Franklin County.
Leverett’s selectboard, in its Nov. 19 letter, acknowledged that the town is a member of PVTA rather than FRTA, but added that it believes the town should have received notice of the proposed changes and should have been involved in the planning process, as state taxpayers who help support FRTA operations.
Cote said, “People are not understanding. So much focus has gone into this revision, or possible elimination, that we wanted to do with Route 23 (through Montague Center), rather than people looking at the systemwide changes we wanted to make, and that’s unfortunate .”
Rather than eliminate Route 23 completely, Cote said FRTA may take steps to shorten the route by perhaps traveling from Greenfield to Montague Center and then connecting in Sunderland with PVTA’s UMass bus.
She says FRTA inherited the Montague route when it merged with Greenfield and Montague Transportation Area in 2001, and it had only 150 riders in all of November, with only three or four riders on any given bus.
“We’ve worked very hard to try to make connections so that people from Orange could in fact take the bus to get to Greenfield to make the connection to Amherst,” said Cote, even though they would have to arrive in Greenfield by 6:55 a.m., leaving Orange Center at 5:45, to change in South Deerfield for a PVTA bus for UMass at 7:15. “They’re making a huge deal out of that. We went twice a day before (to UMass), and now there are options several times through the day.”
Cote said the proposed changes were made to provide as much service as possible as efficiently as possible.
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