NORTH ADAMS -- Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority Administrator Gary Shepard has a lot of plans to improve rural transportation in the region -- extended hours, expanded routes and small bi-directional buses running every half-hour, which connect with larger buses on dedicated lines.
But those plans won't come to fruition without dedicated funding, he said during the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's monthly forum at the First Baptist Church on Friday.
"The $100 million that Gov. Deval Patrick put in his budget for the BRTA is great, but it doesn't mean expanding services for us," Shepard said. "We're the only state agency that is funded retroactively. What it means is that we won't have to borrow funds or pay on interest. When I was in Springfield, I had to cut services, but I wasn't saving money. I was cutting services equal to what we were paying in interest."
To fund the expanded services and routes that he recently submitted to the state in a five-year plan, Shepard said the state's 15 regional transportation authorities need to have a dedicated line item in the state budget, similar to the line item that funds the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
"If we have that line item, with dedicated funding, then no matter who the transportation secretary is, no matter who the governor is, we'll have our funding," he said. "It's not rocket science, but [our needs] are kind of hard to explain to the
While Shepard was able to provide insight into the types of expansions and improvements that the BRTA wants to make, a larger focus of the forum was on how individuals could help local legislators secure a dedicated line item in the state budget or improve funding to the rural transportation authorities.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said that one way to succeed is to join forces, not only as a county, but as a broader region.
"I think when you talk about this issue in the State House, too often it's assumed to be only a Boston-issue," he said. "When we are able to advocate on important regional issues, organized and communicated as one loud, unified voice we are able to get things done. When you look at what we've accomplished, whether it's the new science center at MCLA, funding to fix up the Hadley Overpass or the initial funding for broadband, we were able to accomplish these things not only because we united as a Berkshire delegation, but as the Western Mass delegation."
He added, "Having a set of identified regional priorities is easier to communicate at the State House and it means anytime anyone from the state comes out here, we can put those priorities in front of them. The more they hear one consistent theme and message, the better our chances are."
Several forum participants offered stories of how BerkshireRides had improved their lives, making it possible for them to get to jobs that are in different towns or have inconsistent schedules.
"It's those types of stories that we need to bring to the State House," Downing said. "We don't need people to just do an email campaign, where people send us the same form letter over and over again. To be honest, those campaigns are discounted at the State House. A personal story, like one of the ones shared today, carry more weight. One personal story is equal to about 40 or 50 form letter emails."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email