Expanded BRTA services prove successful

Following the implementation of the pilot program “Bus With Us,” which provides students with free access to certain Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) bus routes, the College and the BRTA are examining the program’s success and the potential for expansion of the pilot.

“Bus With Us” provides students with a bus service from Williamstown to various locations in North Adams. In collaboration with the BRTA, the College developed a system in which  bus runs pick students up from specific points on campus every half-hour. Transportation is free with a student ID. Additionally, the service includes “on demand” stops, from which riders may send a text message to the company to be picked up. The program was implemented this fall following discussion between a number of groups throughout the community last spring (“BRTA to pilot bus service expansion,” May 9).

“‘Bus With Us’ came about because there was demonstrated student need and interest in engaging more with the surrounding community,” Krista Pickett ’13, a member of the planning committee, said. “This program looks to establish consistent and affordable transportation for students, staff and faculty in the Williamstown-North Adams area.”

Members of both the BRTA and the College are pleased with the program and its potential to benefit College students, faculty and staff and the broader community of local residents.

“We are thrilled to partner with Williams College to better serve the transportation needs of their students, faculty and staff,” Gary Shepard, executive director of the BRTA, said in an October press release.

Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs at the College, echoed Shepard’s statement. “I see great potential for more collaboration,” he said. “It’s wonderful that the BRTA has been so committed to partnering with Williams on this pilot program, which should not only enable more of our students to engage with the community but be of service to all local residents.”

So far, the pilot has been successful in increasing ridership, both among students at the College and throughout the wider community thanks to the increase in service frequency offered by the BRTA. From September to October, ridership rose from 287 to 512 passengers. Paula Consolini, coordinator of experiential education at the College, indicated that ridership for programs that the Office of Community Engagement is trying to promote, programs such as after-school tutoring at Brighton Elementary, have sometimes increased ridership by 20 to 25 percent for the month of October.

“The BRTA is really pleased because the ridership is really substantial,” Consolini said. “The students are responding incredibly well and taking full advantage.” Given the limited publicity for the campaign, Consolini believes that this increase in ridership is large enough to justify the continuation of the program. In fact, Consolini predicted that ridership will increase, as Consolini and Student Engagement are working with the BRTA to provide better signage for where students can board the bus and to generate more publicity. “This has been a low-publicity campaign so far, and most of the energy has come from students,” Consolini said. “Students are using the system to get to places that it would otherwise be more complicated to get to, and that tells us that this is a valuable service.”

Student participation is essential to the growth of the program. The committee that designed “Bus With Us,” a slogan created by Pickett, includes several students who play a key role contributing ideas, leading outings and spreading information about the program. “Students were involved in its conception and design,” Pickett said. “They named it, helped to design promotional materials and have encouraged members of the Williams community to take advantage of the opportunity.” Student ridership has been an important indicator in the success of the pilot because “it tells the bus company and us if you provide the service, people will use it,” Consolini said.

The pilot is designed to run for 13 weeks; it initially began on Sept. 10 and is scheduled to conclude around Dec. 1. But if demand continues to increase, the program may be extended to January and even into the spring term.

The committee has many ideas for future initiatives and improvements, the most immediate being the addition of signs at bus stops. Other expansion could include a loop at Sweet Brook and a route to Mount Greylock High School, which would be instrumental in offering students expanded opportunities for tutoring and volunteering. Students at Mount Greylock would also benefit from the expansion, as they could use the bus to take classes at the College. Future expansion could even include collaboration with other colleges in the area.

The next couple of months will be crucial in determining the continuation of “Bus With Us.”