Expanding local transport: When the BRTA is not enough

Kristen Altman

A few weeks ago, I rushed onto the Barrington State Company website, eager to seize free tickets to The Glass Menagerie play offered to all students at the College. I made an account, put in my email, and prayed that there were seats left. I did end up getting my free ticket; I didn’t, however, make it to the show. Though free tickets had been offered to all students, free transportation was a different story. The show was in Pittsfield until 9:00 p.m., the last bus with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) left at 5:25 p.m., and I, being a first-year, had no car on campus. I was left with the frustrating sense of having both the diverse opportunities in the local community and the lack of infrastructure to get to these opportunities.

My relationship to transportation at the College is inevitably restricted: due to parking limitations, no first-year is allowed a car on campus. Yet transportation is an issue faced by more than just first-year students. Bringing a car to college can be costly for students, and it’s also a decision that is much more difficult the farther one lives from the College. The alternatives – including ZipCar, Uber and private taxi services – project a financial barrier that can be prohibitive for many in our community. For students coming to the College from outside of New England, or those unable to foot the bill of paid transportation services, there is a definite gap between the events offered in the Berkshires and the transportation available to bring students to them.

Free rides on the BRTA – courtesy of a pilot program initiated by the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA) – is a good start. But even this program demonstrates the gap. The last Williamstown/North Adams bus on the BRTA system runs at 5:25 p.m., which aligns almost exactly with the end of class and sports for Williams students. Seeing a Friday night movie, getting a dinner with friends or attending an evening play are not possible when using the BRTA. BRTA also does not operate on Sundays, and while the College offers its own Sunday shuttle system, it does not go beyond North Adams and has similar limitations on evening activities: the last College-operated Sunday shuttle returns at 5:55 p.m.

For students hoping to explore resources in the local area, then, transportation options are limited to daytime use of BRTA or college-provided transportation for select student activities. This does not provide room for attending an evening concert at MASS MoCA, catching a Sunday train on the Pittsfield Amtrak or grabbing essentials at Stop & Shop after the class day has ended. Limited public transportation options mean that there is little space for students to use our surrounding resources as students.

Granted, Williamstown is a small community; a robust public transportation system shouldn’t be expected. But for the college community, further efforts should be made to connect students with their surrounding area. Any off-campus event publicized on Daily Messages should include a note describing where the event is and provide a suggested public transportation route to get there; if there is no public transportation available to the event at that time, the postings should also include on-campus resources that would allow for students to request transportation. Additionally, the College shuttle system should be expanded beyond Sunday shuttles; through a broadening of the shuttle system, the need for public transportation after 5:30 p.m. could be easily resolved. Even a shuttle that runs to Stop & Shop on weekday evenings would be a vast improvement for students. Most of all, though, the conversation around local opportunities should not be contingent on whether one has a car on campus, has signed up for ZipCar or is hoping for College transportation: we should be able to focus on the events themselves, without having to worry about transportation logistics.

I didn’t make it to The Glass Menagerie in the end. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve access and infrastructure to connect students to future opportunities.  After all, Ragtag Theatre’s Cinderella is playing in Pittsfield next month, and I’m not about to miss the show.

Kristen Altman ’22 is from Killingworth, Conn. Her major is undecided.