Advisory Board Approves Changes to BRTA/iBerkshires.com Service
PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority’s service changes for the coming fiscal year were approved at Thursday’s advisory board meeting.
A number of adjustments were made to the proposal after seeking feedback from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the general public. The planning commission wanted to ensure that the changes do not affect the environmental justice population and continue to connect residents to essential places.
According to the recommendations of the USRA, there are no more route changes along East and Newell streets and the fares for the micro-transit pilot program will be between $3 and $4 per person one way.
“The goals of the service changes have not changed,” administrator Robert Malnati said.
“We are trying to maintain some of the successful pilot programs we had in place, we knew the grant funding was expiring at the end of the year, we listened to our clients in the client survey that was sent out in January and some of the answers that came to us, we incorporated them into the objectives, one of them was “fix what you have before you seek to expand” that’s what they said and also, “we like evening service”, so we kept as much as possible.”
Malnati added that there was an effort to facilitate future electric vehicle locations and connections to other areas. Electric vehicle technology isn’t there yet for BRTA, he said, but it’s hoped it will be in the next two years.
The Route 1 proposal from Pittsfield to North Adams has been modified to turn Allendale Plaza into a micro-hub with connections available between Routes 1, 4, 12 and 14 so customers can travel in multiple directions.
“Route 1 we will continue to do evening service there, we also use Allendale as a transfer point as a micro hub, that’s where the Ashuwillticook Trail extension goes,” Malnati explained.
“This proposal had four vehicles going there to transfer people, so if you were coming from North Adams and wanted to go to Dalton, you can transfer there, you don’t have to come to ITC to return in Allendale to go to Dalton.
“We also took the recommendations from the planning commission and said, ‘if the mall comes back and becomes more viable, we can certainly modify our on-demand service that we proposed in the proposal. “”
Route 5B from Pittsfield to Lanesborough Center will follow a new pattern replacing Berkshire Medical Center and Crane Avenue customers traveling to and from the Pittsfield and Lanesborough Intermodal Transport Center (ITC). This route will cross Center Street, Seymour Street, Berkshire Medical Center and North Street to and from the center of Lanesborough.
On Route 21 via Lee, Stockbridge and Great Barrington, stops for Brookside Manor and the Senior Center have been combined with the existing stop location on the Brookside Manor side of the Senior Center to maintain hourly service to both places.
On Route 22, the Great Barrington Loop, an evening pilot route has been discontinued as pilot funding expires June 30 and there is no other source of funding to continue the service.
Pilot micro-transit service areas were added along North Street between Springside Avenue and Waconah Street and along Crane Avenue between North Street and Dalton Avenue.
“We were trying, as I said earlier, to dip our toes into the micro-transit arena,” Malnati said.
“So we’re going to confine it right now until we can see what the demand is, we have a paratransit fleet and paratransit workers that have capacity, so we’re going to use their call center , we will use their drivers and dispatchers for this, which is why we limit the days of the hours and where people can go, work or medical appointments.”
The BRTA worked with the BRPC in late February to review the service changes and public meetings were held in March. A 45-day public comment period ended in mid-April and final plans will be released June 1 for a July 1 effective date.
Jon Gould of State Senator Adam Hinds’ office observed that the changes are the result of staffing shortages and financial constraints and asked what the BRTA’s goals are for the fiscal year 2023 budget.
Malnati said the goal would be for the state to fund the $101 million request for the 15 regional transportation authorities instead of $94 million, as that number is stable from the previous year.
He explained that the RTAs are considering a base of $94 million, including $3.5 million for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and $3.5 million for labor retention. work. It was in an amendment from the House of Representatives.
“Our costs have gone up like everyone else…if your costs are going up and you’re trying to provide the same service, how can you do that?” he said.
“It’s a simple math that everything goes up, but it’s the same thing and your funding is the same, so something has to go and you have to cut service to balance your budget and that’s not the way to go. .”
Rene Wood from Sheffield spoke about the injustices that RTAs face compared to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) when it comes to funding.
“I think it is now up to the Senate to correct the injustice to the RTA budget, I think it is important to note that the MBTA budget got a CPI increase and not the RTA budget, so the RTAs are definitely considered secondary class citizens, when in fact transportation here is probably more important than it is in the MBTA area, as has been shown during COVID, people have just given up on that service like crazy and the city and surrounding area carried on,” she said.
“I also think, [Malnati] and the House are very modest in a CPI index, because $3 1/2 million out of a $94 million budget doesn’t even begin to match the 9.5% inflation rate reported in January, so this is not enough, it is good but it is not enough.
State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier was on the call and agreed with Wood’s sentiment.
“I totally agree with how the RTAs are treated unfairly compared to the MBTA, there’s just example after example of that,” she said.
“The win in the House budget was that the House ways and means budgets did better than the governor and the loss is that we didn’t ask for our amendments, so we’re going to keep working on that. and certainly with our Senate partners, which is our next quote, bite the apple.”
She also thanked Malnati for the new stop at Callahan Drive in Pittsfield to allow employers to recruit workers.
It was questioned whether the service changes had passed, with seven members voting in favor and four members voting against. Representatives from Great Barrington, Lenox, Sheffield and Stockbridge voted against.
There was also a discussion about the transparency of BRTA’s finance committee after it recommended a 4% increase in the director’s salary since April 1.
“I would like to know if finance committee meetings are posted and open not only to other members of the BRTA advisory committee, but to the general public,” Wood asked.
“I don’t believe they are and I’m bringing this up because I think it’s a serious violation of the Open Meetings Act because I think our meetings have been going on for a while since the connection doesn’t hasn’t been posted you need to send an acknowledgment which you are going to attend and then the link is sent to you I have discussed this with [Malnati] recently, that’s not how the open meeting law works.”
Wood said she would file a complaint whenever meetings weren’t posted where the public and advisory board members would have access to login information without having to respond.
Two other members supported his comments.
Sheila Irvin from Pittsfield said in her experience it has been a “fairly informal situation” over time.
Douglas McNally of Windsor explained the process that led to a proposal for a 4% salary increase.
“The annual balance sheets were the subject of discussions between the members of the Finance Committee, and of a discussion with [Malnati] given a couple of things the first is usually before the finance committee meeting there’s a discussion with the legislative delegation where we get an idea of what they think the RTA, the BRTA should go in one direction “, did he declare.
“That’s where a lot of the push came from to get more data-driven decision-making because they felt they needed more of it and (Malnati) needed to be more transparent with it. if they wanted to defend the financials, so generally what happens is we take that input, we take the performance, we look at Bob’s response to the instructions that were given the year before,”
“For example, the year before, management was to find a way to expand the evening service and use more diligent and deeper research not on overall passenger utilization etc., but on the “where people get on and off. stops and what time of day and so on, and the fact that he followed and did that in the discussion was round for a positive review.”
Inflation was also taken into consideration for the increase.
The Finance Committee will probably address this issue at its next meeting.
Keywords: BRTA, financial year 2023,