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Microtransit study to explore bringing rideshare technology to public transportation in Berkshire County

Josh Landes
Tate Coleman makes a presentation to the Great Barrington selectboard in 2019.

A Great Barrington, Massachusetts teenager who’s spent years focusing on regional public transit is now working on a new project. It would bring rideshare technology to bolster more traditional transportation options.

Tate Coleman is chair of the Regional Transportation Advisory Committee in Southern Berkshire County. He’s also a member of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority advisory board as a representative from Great Barrington.

“So in 2018, I worked with a few others in the town of Great Barrington to get some bus stop signs up," he told WAMC. "That was my first project and formal introduction into the public transit sphere. We were successful, and we got up over 27 bus stops when there were previously none in the town. And then in 2019, I worked as chair of the public transportation advisory committee in Great Barrington at the time, worked with community members, and we did a not unrelated survey and study on route optimization for the existing fixed route services.”

Coleman – who just turned 18 – is now working on his undergraduate senior thesis project at Bard College at Simon's Rock, majoring in mathematics and transportation systems analysis.

“I am working with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the Regional Transportation Advisory Committee on a microtransit study," he said. "So that's a shared ride, on demand service similar to a shared ride Uber or Lyft service.”

Coleman’s project is both an extension of his past efforts to reimagine public transit in the Berkshires and an acknowledgement that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected that sphere as much as any other.

“Fixed route ridership on BRTA has decreased significantly," he said. "It's coming back to some degree, but, you know, ridership is down for sure during the pandemic and the restrictions. So this is another possibility for utilizing public transit resources to better serve the needs of our communities.”

The study has multiple components.

“We did a countywide survey in December in January," said Coleman. "And that received a little over 2,200 responses, which was amazing. Additionally, I did a field research study, and I went around the country on Amtrak, actually, and looked at various different communities and places where they had implemented similar services.”

The survey found that respondents were willing to pay more for the microtransit service than the existing bus service, and that interest is high.

“Over three-quarters of respondents to the survey said they were likely or very likely to use the service," Coleman told WAMC. "And I think it was over half were interested in using the service on a weekly or more frequently than weekly basis, which is huge.”

Public input meetings for the project set for March 2nd and 9th will help Coleman fill in some of its key components, including what model would make the most sense for the Southern Berkshires.

“Potential models include a first mile, last mile service, say, connecting from a central bus stop in a community, from a bus station, and providing transit for people to get to work, home, school, from those centrally located stops," he explained. "And that's one model. Another one would be a more regionalized service, which would just be a point to point service. So it would bring you from where you're starting, say, from home, to work.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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