‘Travel training’ needed for public transitMore Info
To the Editor:
When I moved to the Berkshires from New York City in fourth grade (2013), one of the first things I looked for was public transit, since I was so used to using it to go everywhere. After doing some research and finding out about the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority (BRTA), I obtained a schedule, and found out that, being a student, I could ride the bus for only 70 cents. Since then, I have used the BRTA regularly for much of my transport around Berkshire County. Now, to the question at hand.
One of the reasons people may choose not to utilize public transit in rural areas is they may not know about the system. Let’s take Berkshire County as an example. There are 14 bus routes in Berkshire County. Until the bus stop signs in Great Barrington were put up this summer, it was almost impossible to know about the public transit system if you weren’t specifically looking for it. In comparison, New York City’s system is quite comprehensive, with 322 bus routes and 24 subway lines; each route has a clearly marked sign at each station/stop. The minibuses that the BRTA is now utilizing look very similar to Paratransit vehicles (which are only for the elderly and disabled), so some people may assume they are the same thing. This could be helped by, say, once-a-month “Travel Training” info sessions around towns, at libraries and at local schools to raise consciousness and awareness of transit systems and how to use them.
Another reason people may choose not to take the bus is they think their car is faster. While this may be true in some instances, it is certainly not in all. For example, if a resident of Great Barrington or a tourist is driving to the Main Street from their home or hotel, chances are they end up spending more time circling the block to find a parking space than actually driving to their destination. In New York City, public transit is almost always faster. If one took the bus to GB Main Street, it might take 5 minutes longer to get there, but it would eliminate driving through traffic AND trying to find parking. It’s a win-win.
For commuting long-distance to Pittsfield, there is an express bus that runs three times a day (there were four until the Sept. 4, 2018 service cuts), Great Barrington to Pittsfield. This bus travels from GB Main Street to Pittsfield in only 36 minutes (33 minutes in a car). Unfortunately, it is not utilized enough. There is an average of seven people round trip on the South County express buses. The BRTA has a little under 2,000 riders daily on the entire system. In comparison, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), has over 11,300 riders daily on average. The population of Roaring Fork County, Colorado is around 32,000, whereas Berkshire County has around 128,000 people.
Public transit can be quite a bit cheaper than driving as well. Berkshire County has the highest bus fares in Massachusetts, with local fares being $1.55 and systemwide (3+ towns) being $4. This is still cheaper than gas, let alone car maintenance in most cases. Public transit is also environmentally friendly (when there are more than an average of 4 people on a bus at any given time), and it is also more convenient — you can sit on the bus, read the paper and/or have your morning coffee during your commute, or even sleep, instead of driving.
Unfortunately, public transit systems around the country have been reporting declining ridership in recent years. Many people just go for the convenience of their cars, not utilizing their local public transit systems at all. This could be improved by more comprehensive systems, increasing the general public’s awareness of the available options, and highlighting the convenience and cost benefits of using public transit.