Aging county shifts demand toward public transportation

  • Sen. Jo Comerford speaks at the Transit Equity Day for Civil Rights and a Healthy Planet at the meeting room at the Greenfield Public Library. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Transit Equity Day for Civil Rights and a Healthy Planet was held in the meeting room at the Greenfield Public Library Monday afternoon.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Senator Jo Comerford speaks at the Transit Equity Day for Civil Rights and a Healthy Planet at the meeting room at the Greenfield Public Library. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2019 7:52:59 PM

GREENFIELD — While fixing potholes has always gone hand-in-hand with people’s complaints of the government, the conversation in a rural, aging county is beginning to shift toward a demand for more accessible public transportation, Megan Rhodes, transportation planner for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments said Monday. 

In the middle of updating its annual regional transportation plan, which happens every four years, Rhodes said the responses from the public has shifted away from pothole protests to a greater need for higher frequency of transit routes, especially for elders. 

“They’re very concerned about what they’re going to do,” Rhodes said at a forum put on by Russ Fisher and Transportation Justice for Franklin County in honor of national Transit Equity Day. “There’s a really big need for transportation in our area. We need to have the infrastructure to match that.”

As conversations continue to ramp up around public transit, like studies for an east-west passenger rail, local politicians and stakeholders are doubling down on the need to invest in adequately funding buses and trains. 

Leading the way in this conversation at the forum held at Greenfield Public Library Monday afternoon was state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, who pledged her commitment to making public transportation more accessible to Franklin and Hampshire county residents. 

“There are good ideas out there,” Comerford said. “We need to demonstrate the public political will.” 

The newly elected state senator said she has requested to sit on the transportation committee on Beacon Hill, “because I believe so deeply in public transportation.” 

On the campaign trail, she said she heard, at every turn, talk about transit, between calls to restore funding to Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority that have led to protests from students at the five colleges, as well as challenges to legislators to get the Franklin Regional Transportation Authority to better serve the entire community. 

Comerford has also filed a bill with fellow legislators to study east-west rail along Route 2, which is separate to the current study that is just getting off the ground to look at a rail between Springfield and Boston that might also link up to Pittsfield. 

“Send in your ideas,” Comerford said. “Put public pressure on me and on the committee and legislature-at-large to give Franklin County it’s due.” 

There were several ideas thrown out during the forum, including the idea widely agreed upon that the FRTA should find a way to cater to more individual pickups. Some people in the room compared it to an Uber-like model, but under the public sector. 

Greenfield City Councilor Otis Wheeler backed the idea of pushing for more public transit that is more usable. 

“I’ve been a user of public transit any time I’ve lived somewhere where that’s possible,” Wheeler said. “I don’t consider it possible in Franklin County.” 

The Precinct 7 councilor said to not forget about sidewalk accessibility — they need to be made walkable, especially in the winter. He also harked back to the turn of the 20th century when Greenfield still had a streetcar system that took people to Turners Falls, Northampton and Conway.

Andy Grant, who is on the Board of Directors for Franklin Community Co-Op and is an active hand in the Just Roots community farm, emphasized the importance of making sure Greenfield is accessible to all of its residents. 

“The community farm is a mile beyond the public routes,” said Grant, who took the bus to the meeting from Amherst and apologized for being late, and remarked how with the snowbanks, he was left to walk on roads with cars whizzing by him. 

Advocates reminded everyone at the forum that people who want to participate in weekend or nighttime town and political activities can’t, since the bus doesn’t run on weekends or at night. 

Chris Cappucci, an aid for state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, also voiced the need for better transportation. He said they have to adjust their office hours around the bus schedules. 

The topic was also presented as a climate issue by Greening Greenfield’s Susan Worgaftik.

“It’s a no brainer,” she said. “Public transportation improves the environment.” 

David Cohen of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution remarked that the framework by which people often think about public transit is not relevant to the discussion. He challenged the idea that transit should need to break even, because it is for the public good.

“Were they ever suppose to be profitable?” Cohen said. “It’s that corporate mentality that permeates.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264

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