Bus company Peter Pan will begin a new direct route from New York City to Great Barrington, Massachusetts on Monday.
Steve Picheny, a longtime resident of Great Barrington and chair of its economic development committee, says the plan to directly connect the Southern Berkshires to New York City emerged from an informal private group focused on economic development he formed five years ago.
“Up to about 50 of us would get together and talk about what we could do to eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of people moving to the Berkshires,” he told WAMC.
The group identified transportation among those obstacles, and worked with Peter Pan and the town of Great Barrington for years on finding a better way to connect it to the city. Now, Picheny says that one of the company’s existent routes to New England will be streamlined into an express to and from Great Barrington by removing a number of stops in Connecticut.
“They have agreed that as of September 30th, Great Barrington will be the last stop on this bus line before it gets to the city, so basically it will be an express from Great Barrington,” said Picheny.
“We’re going to call it the Great Barrington to New York Express, but I don’t want it to be confusing to the folks who are used to being picked up on those stops north of Great Barrington," said Peter Pan Vice President of Operations Frank Dougherty. "We have great relationships with Williamstown, Lenox, Lee, and all of the communities that we serve north of Great Barrington, and the bus will continue on down from Williamstown as it always has.”
He says the move is being made after years of planning to compete with rail service to the region – mentioning the Metro-North stop in Wassaic, New York – as well as a decision to cut services to Connecticut.
“We’ve been dealing with some regulatory changes on hours of service for bus drivers’ driving time and some issues with the state of Connecticut and their U-Pass program which has caused a loss of ridership out of the stops that we would normally pick up in Torrington and Winsted, so it all came together with a plan that has been in the making for three years that the bus will now leave Great Barrington and go express to New York City and express back from New York City to Great Barrington,” Dougherty told WAMC.
He says Waterbury, Connecticut, and Sheffield, Massachusetts are also being cut from the existent service. A one-way ride from Great Barrington to the city will cost $45, and is estimated to take around three hours.
“That’s the decision that we’ve made," said the Vice President. "We think it’s exciting for the people in Great Barrington, and we think it offers a nice travel option to New York City that might be more appealing now that it’s express, and we think it’s far more affordable than taking the train. We hope that we’re putting a good product out there, and we’re hoping we going to be able to expand on this.”
An Amtrak ticket from New York City to the only Berkshire community it services – Pittsfield – costs $103 and takes almost five hours. Meanwhile, Wassaic – the nearest Metro-North stop – is almost an hour’s drive from Great Barrington.
Dougherty says the plan has been supported by the town, as well as local legislators like State Representative Smitty Pignatelli. He says a broader, region-wide vision of the plan was scrapped due to a lack of state funding.
“We also made an attempt at one point during the process to try and get some state subsidy from the state of Massachusetts in order to provide service from the BRTA down to Great Barrington to connect people in some of the outlying areas north and west of Great Barrington in Massachusetts to bring them into Great Barrington as part of this project,” said Dougherty.
Asked about a competing vision for transit in the area – the Berkshire Flyer rail project promoted by State Senator Adam Hinds – the Peter Pan VP said the private company’s product was sounder.
“Trains cannot survive without state and federal funding," he told WAMC. "They’re providing a service is in direct competition with private enterprise. They are subsidized, and their fares are more expensive and service is less flexible. So we think that bus travel is underutilized and is better all-around for the travelling public.”
Passengers will be able to decide for themselves when the non-stop service from Great Barrington to New York City begins September 30th.