NORTH ADAMS -- If it wasn't for BerkshireRides helping him get back and forth to work from the city to Vacation Villages, Michael Rose believes he'd still be unemployed.
"I was a tumbleweed around town," he said Monday. "Then I discovered BerkshireRides. I went to a job fair and got a job. BerkshireRides has given me the staying power. Without it, I'd probably still be a tumbleweed."
For the last 10 years, BerkshireRides, formally known as Transportation Association of Northern Berkshire, has been helping residents get to and from work.
The program, which grew out of a Northern Berkshire Community Coalition forum about transportation needs in 1999, got its start in 2002 with the help of federal funding secured by U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst.
Olver, who is not seeking re-election this November, was on hand Monday to help celebrate the program's 10th anniversary during a celebration at Public eat + drink.
"We started as a program that only gave rides. But over the years, we've grown, and now we've become a national model for rural mobility management," Program Manager Jana Brule said Monday.
Since its inception, the program has given a total of 512,000 rides to 5,344 individuals, or 32 percent of the employed individuals in Northern Berkshires, from seven communities.
In 2007, the program added a fleet of five vans that serve area groups such as BFAIR, the COTY Center, the Northern Berkshire
In addition, the program provides transportation to daycare providers for those who use its ride service to get to work and aids the Berkshire Regional Transportation Service with its para-transit program, screening applicants and developing its travel-training curriculum.
"In the last two years, we've screened 3,000 applicants and helped many become spontaneously mobile," Brule said. "Sometimes people are hesitant to use the bus service or don't know that the buses have wheelchair lifts. We've helped many of these people, who have been relying on scheduled van services, move throughout the county."
Olver, who joked that he couldn't remember being at the 1999 meeting that made him advocate for the funding, said he was pleased to know his efforts had helped so many people in the region gain or keep employment.
When federal funding for the program disappeared from the budget last year, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, stepped in, lobbying for funding in the state Legislature in conjunction with the state Department of Transportation.
"When it comes to transportation, there always seems to be a debate: If you're in the big city you need transportation and if you're not, you don't need it," Downing said. "It's important for people to know that we have the same problem in this part of the state, even if we have a different amount of people, a different geography and a different economy."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email