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Efforts to Create Rural Transportation Options Turn to Private Sector
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
04:01AM / Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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The BRTA is part of the discussion. The goal is to provide shuttles from rural areas to BRTA bus lines.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Groups looking to create a transportation management authority will soon turn their eye toward getting private-sector involvement.
 
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Transportation Program Planner Clete Kus said the plans are aimed to improve transportation in the rural area. In briefing the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Kus said the idea is to create a membership-based organization to shuttle people in rural areas, helping them get to jobs.
 
"It's a membership-based organization where you get the business community along with institutions and possibility municipalities, develop an agreement and focus on providing and delivering transportation options," Kus said.
 
The idea stemmed from a summit held by state Sen. Adam Hinds at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts last year. Organizations had come together to discuss ways to address rural transportation. Kus said an idea was crafted to create new circular routes with the existing public transit system.
 
"A lot of time and effort went into looking at the best option for a circulator route as well as what the cost will be," Kus said, But, "it would be a relatively high cost to increase the frequency and it wouldn't really get at the first and last mile initiative."
 
The concept shifted. MCLA, the senator's office, Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, 1Berkshire and BRPC then worked through the concept of a TMA. It would essentially get businesses to contribute a fee to be part of it and shuttle vans already in existence with other organizations would be deployed to get people from their homes and to one of the main bus routes. And then from the bus route to the job. And back.
 
Hinds has put forth a budget amendment in the state budget for $35,000 to get a staff member to head the effort. He hopes the TMA can be created by October.
 
"The reality is that there is a big question of how do we improve rural transportation? Is there a hybrid approach to what the BRTA provides but then using other aspects around the county like your senior vans, off-duty school vans and buses, vets vans, and paratransit," Hinds said last week.
 
Kus said the effort is now switching from the planning stages to getting private-sector companies on board.
 
"The private sector is going to be asked to come up with money to help defray the cost and depending on how well that is perceived will really determine if this moves forward," Kus said.
 
Kus added, "there are other options that could defray the cost. Members of the TMA, instead of providing a cash payment, one concept is to have them use vehicles or staff to be drivers."
 
While getting the private sector to contribute is going to be the main focus soon, Kus said there is also still some work in identifying the readership and the employers. He's thinking something like an automated call center would be the best option for that.
 
The concept isn't really new as there are plenty throughout the country. But, the majority of those are in urban areas.
 
"There are a number of TMAs operating in the state and across the United States. There are a lot of models but not so much for rural areas," Kus said.
 
MPO member Jim Lovejoy said he is supportive of the effort. But, he does question whether such an effort will do the trick. He said the distances and the lack of population pose the biggest challenges to rural transportation because it adds to the cost. 
 
"It seems like there are some basic bedrock problems with this," Lovejoy said.
 
Kus said there is no doubt it will cost money because there is always the cost of vehicles and people to drive. And the concept is far from a "done deal." Nonetheless, a collaborative of organizations is working on it and a program to help those in rural areas get to work and back easier is being developed.
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