By Meredith McCulloch
There was standing room only at the Finance Committee meeting on February 4 when the budget for a pilot project expanding local transit service was reviewed. Town Manager Richard Reed described the project as a way to test the need for additional transportation within the town.
For a Bedford Citizen report on an earlier presentation to the Selectmen, see: https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2015/12/12/selectmen-hear-proposal-for-expanded-local-transit/
The pilot project would run for two years costing $104,794 in year one, which includes start-up costs, and $102,493 in year two. The costs include dispatch service, data analysis, marketing and five hours per week of town staff time. The proposal would provide an in town bus with a dispatch service utilizing GPS and Wi-Fi available from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.
Currently riders can contact the Bedford Local Transit (BLT) dispatch only one hour each morning and rarely can schedule a ride for that day. The only measure of use for the BLT is the number of riders per day with no information about unmet need.
Reed said the dispatch service would allow more flexibility in scheduling and provide clear data, not only on which rides were scheduled, but also which requests could not be met. It could provide maps showing patterns of demand.
The idea is to start small, he said, and to use the data from the pilot for future planning. The pilot would charge $2.00 per ride. Reed emphasized that in this region public transportation cannot be self-supporting, but must be subsidized. Service to young people, seniors, the disabled and the general public are seen as non-monetary benefits.
Members of the public in support of the project told personal stories about the need for local transportation. One woman who cannot drive said she felt stranded in her home. Another said when parents cannot drive for any reason, there is no way for children to get to activities after school.
Selectman Margot Fleischman said one unmet need is for after-school rides, for example, for high school and middle school children going to Callahan’s Karate or Bedford Farms. The distance is walkable but not safe. She said that by reducing the number of parents driving their children, traffic around the schools with associated idling time, traffic congestion and air pollution would be reduced. Lexington has found that 37% of their ridership is students.
Many surrounding towns are developing local transit. Acton’s is similar to Bedford’s proposed project. Acton is working with Boxborough, Littleton, Maynard, and Westford on a program called Cross-Town Connect.
Reed said the pilot project would be presented as a separate article (currently Article 21) on the Town Meeting Warrant, and if approved, would become an amendment to FY17 operating budget.
Economic Development Coordinator Alyssa Sandoval is in contact with local businesses about the project. Adam Schwartz, Executive Board Member, Bedford Chamber of Commerce, said “The Chamber of Commerce is willing to be collaborative around this.”