|BRTA Hopeful for Growth Opportunity in 2013|
|By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent|
11:51PM / Monday, July 30, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority believes the coming year will be a key one in seeking state support for improving the county's public transportation services.
At its quarterly meeting Thursday, the regional transit director asked the help of the BRTA's Advisory Board as it prepares to make its case for additional funding in what he believes will be a critical window for seeking to redress inequities in attention to regional service shortcomings as the state continues to struggle with the massive cost of the Boston area's MBTA system.
"I believe that after the elections in November, when a new state Senate is seated, and a new House of Representatives is seated, that a real debate will begin on public transportation," said BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard.
Shepard said the local RTA has been working on preparing its "big ask" for what it needs to implement long overdue service improvements in Berkshire County in a theoretical five-year plan.
"I think if we miss this opportunity, that the horse is not only out of the barn, but we may not have a barn at all," said Shepard.
The BRTA must carefully present its plan for how it would strategically implement whatever new funds it is successful in getting. Shepard noted that it was unlikely they would get all of this "big ask" at once, but could conceivably receive it over a five-year period.
Concern with the proportionate allocation of transportation funding in Massachusetts has increased of late, in light of controversies over MBTA expenses and deficit struggles in the state's transportation budget. Berkshire County legislators urged regional fairness in transportation at a budgetary meeting of the state's Ways and Means Committee in Pittsfield this March, even as transportation hearings in the eastern part of the state were drawing hundreds of protesters.
Regional transit systems were not forgotten entirely in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority bailout last month — part of the package included legislation for an additional $7 million for the RTAs. This includes both one-time funding of $3.5 million and another $3.5 million in the annual appropriation line item.
Debate over public transportation prompted by the struggle to close a $49 million MBTA budget gap for 2013 has drawn significant attention around the state, and the BRTA believes that may make it a key year for reforms and changes in transportation funding policy.
"If they don't take care of this problem, they [MBTA] will have close to a $200 million deficit the next year," said Shepard.
Transit officials believe employers and businesses may be helpful in advocating for the kinds of service expansions, both in time and geographically, that many Berkshire residents have long clamored for.
"I think we would have allies in the three resorts in Lenox that worked with us on our resort loop," offered Lenox board representative Lee Scott Laugenour as an example. "That only ran for a year, basically because we were limited to Monday through Saturday day times, and their work force is needed on the weekend, on Sundays."
Sunday bus service has long been a demand of county residents, and has often been cited by local legislators as one of their most frequently heard complaints.
Shepard said it would be important as they move forward with their efforts for all the concerned parties in the community to help enunciate to state transportation officials the need for any new reforms to be equitable.
"We're only in favor of something if we get our fair share. We were in favor of the last transportation reform, which promised $15 million more, and we never saw it."