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Editorial: Challenge of transportation in rural Franklin County

  • A bus operated by the Franklin Regional Transportation Authority. STAFF FILE PHOTO/ANDY CASTILLO

Published: 10/8/2019 9:48:23 AM

From Warwick in the east to Hawley in the west, Leyden in the north and Shutesbury in the south, Franklin County’s boundary stretches around 725 square rural miles. Dirt roads bump along through forests. Country lanes amble past rolling farmland. Winding thoroughfares stretch for miles through mostly untouched land.

Our region is the most rural county in the state. Franklin County’s population density is about 100 people per square mile. Comparatively, Berkshire County’s density is 133 people per square mile and Hampshire County’s is close to 300 people.

Historically, transportation has always been a challenge for those who live here. And while state legislatures have pushed for a west-east railroad service to Boston and despite ongoing efforts by nonprofit agencies to fill the gaps through community-driven initiatives, the problem persists today.

Patients need to get to appointments. Employees must get to work.

Getting around can be difficult — especially for those who might not have a license.

To confront these challenges, the Franklin Regional Transit Authority recently launched a pilot program that will allow anyone to schedule a next-day or same-day ride within two different zones through a mobile app called FRTA ACCESS. The program stemmed from another initiative, Demand Response, which is intended to help those over the age of 60 and veterans who have a 70 percent disabled rating get where they need to go. During the pilot phase, which will run until June 2020, riders can schedule rides within two zones through the app: Zone 1, encompassing Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield, Whately, Gill and Leyden; and Zone 2, covering Orange, New Salem, Warwick and Wendell.

Notably, riders cannot travel from one zone to the other; passengers can only travel within their zone.

The ride service runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a first-come-first-serve basis. All rides cost $5 for a one-way trip. Additional riders cost $2.50. The app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play by searching for FRTA.

Transportation in Franklin County continues to be a complex issue. This latest initiative by FRTA, which is funded by the state Department of Transportation Discretionary Grant Program and leverages technology to create a more efficient system, is forward-thinking and creative. It deserves to be recognized.

Others in the transportation field who are also working to confront the region’s challenges should take note. 

Complex problems require creative solutions. The FRTA’s pilot program is a good example of a creative solution.

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