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Bus riders call for more service

TURNERS FALLS — The first of four input sessions in a statewide evaluation of public transportation drew a small crowd to the Great Hall of the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Monday to register their input regarding the Franklin Regional Transit Authority’s bus service.

The process feeds into a study being drafted by a consulting firm for the state government, a starting point for a discussion that could end with more money and expansion for the regional transit service.

FRTA Administrator Tina Cote said the purpose of the hearings is to gather ammunition in the argument for more money from the state and any expansion of services will require permission from the member towns, which would bear a portion of the cost of any expansion.

“We need to make a case for the fact that we need more funding, but we also need to get our towns on board,” Cote said.

Maureen Mullaney of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments said the legislature has directed transit authorities to produce comprehensive service analysis in the face of calls for increased funding. Mullaney said the COG will also begin updating its long term transportation plan, including public transportation, this fall.

Cote and FRCOG Transportation Planner Megan Rhodes presented the bus system’s ridership numbers and current limitations in funding relative to the neighboring Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, with whose services Cote said FRTA’s are often compared.

Cote said the FRTA has a total budget of $6.2 million dollars and the FRTA is limited in how they spend the money they receive from the state, federal government and other sources; the money spent building the new transit center, for instance, she said could not have gone to bus route expansion. Rhodes said 20 percent of the FRTA budget is set aside for fixed routes, the portion of the service under discussion.

The 20 or so attendees in the audience were asked to give feedback via a series of stations set up around the hall, drawing on route maps, marking their homes and destinations they visit in the county, and filling out comment cards.

Turners Falls resident Michael Mackin said he had tried to begin taking the bus to work in Greenfield when he lost his license, but found he would have to take a 22 minute ride to the Transit Center in Greenfield, wait an hour for the bus to the Stop & Shop plaza, then walk to the industrial park.

Mackin said the routes seemed circuitous and he felt they were designed more for people trying to access social services than for those commuting to work, but the routes won’t change to accommodate workers if they don’t try to take the bus.

Turners Falls resident Mercy McLaughlin was worried by the scale and depth of the sample of riders represented at the session. The group was predominantly in the 30 to 60 age range, with no one under 20, and McLaughlin said she felt the interests of students and the elderly would not be heard, and that the FRTA wasn’t making a genuine effort to reach out for input.

McLaughlin said she is a mother and a GCC student, uses the bus daily and would like to see weekend service, more frequent trips throughout the day and regular routes to more towns.

Rhodes said the organizers have reached out to special interests including the Franklin County Employment Board, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and GCC, and conducted a survey of GCC students.

The next meeting will be Wednesday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Olver Transit Center on Olive Street in Greenfield with a Shelburne Falls session planned for May 19 from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center, 53 Main Street, and a final meeting May 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Orange Armory, 151 East Main St.

Monday’s session was mostly concluded within an hour.

The FRTA can be reached at 413-774-2262 or michael@frta.org or the FRCOG at 413-774-3167 or:

mrhodes@frcog.org

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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