As part of a countywide clean air challenge, Berkshire Community College and the regional transit authority are highlighting bus use between the school and downtown Pittsfield.
On the hour a bus runs from the intermodal transit center in downtown Pittsfield about four miles to Berkshire Community College on West Street. Berkshire Regional Transit Authority General Manager of Operations Kirk Dand says the route makes a dedicated stop at Berkshire Medical Center’s Hillcrest campus and allows passengers to get off at safe areas along the roughly 10-minute ride. It’s also one of the BRTA’s highest passenger per vehicle routes, performing about 3,100 trips in March 2016. In June that number dropped to about 1,100 after spring classes ended in May. With the fall semester just getting going at BCC, the bus was nearly full of students heading into downtown along with school president Ellen Kennedy.
“From my office I see the students coming back and forth to the bus stop,” Kennedy said. “It’s really great to see them using public transportation and I think I’m going to start using it to attend my meetings downtown because I found out how convenient it was today.”
Kennedy rode the bus to highlight it as a transit option for students, staff and faculty. Kennedy says students can use excess financial aid to buy a Charlie Card, which allows passengers to pay for trips without having to worry about cash or a paper ticket. The bus schedule is also listed on television screens inside the school. Covered bus stops are located by the main quad and at the school athletic complex across the street.
Working with the state transportation department, MassCommute and MassRides, the BRTA is celebrating the Massachusetts Clean Air Challenge from September 17th to 25th. The idea is to highlight public transit and efforts to reduce vehicle emissions. Dand says the BRTA is testing hybrid buses against standard buses of the same age to track efficiencies.
“We have hybrid vehicles which are either diesel and electric or gasoline and electric, but even when those aren’t available to be on the road because we need a lot more of them, if people take public transportation they’re lowering their carbon footprint,” Dand said. “So just by nature of taking transit you’re helping out the environment.”
There are three hybrids among the 24-bus fixed route fleet. Also the numbe r of bikers utilizing BRTA buses, complete with bike racks, increased from roughly 6,300 trips in fiscal 2015 to nearly 7,700 in fiscal 2016. Sarah Vallieres is the transit authority’s assistant administrator.
“A lot of the transit riders are doing it [biking] for the last leg of their trip,” Vallieres said. “So if they work second shift, they can get to their job, but they wouldn’t be able to get home on our buses because we don’t have the funding for that. So sometimes they’ll ride their bikes home. Or if the fixed route doesn’t go directly to where they need to go for work or medical then they would ride the bike their last leg.”
The lack of service after 7 p.m. is one of the most often cited shortcomings of the BRTA, something it recognizes. Vallieres says the organization is looking to increase efficiency without adding costs.
“We are having three public meetings on September 22 and 23 and we’re looking at having the Route 1 bus that goes from Pittsfield to North Adams, stop at the Walmart [in North Adams] so that the people who are commuting from North Adams to Pittsfield, it’ll be a quicker commute,” Vallieres said. “We’re looking at having a circulator route in North Adams to meet up with the Route 1 Bus at Walmart for better efficiencies. We’re always looking for different ways to increase ridership and make it more efficient. We don’t have any extra funding so we’re trying to be creative with it.”
BRTA’s fixed route monthly ridership has peaked at about 54,000 the past three Octobers, up from roughly 49,000 in fiscal 2013.