Description: The Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) provides transportation in 41 communities in rural Western Massachusetts. The core of the system consists of fixed-route buses centered in the small city of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Recently, FRTA has used a number of creative strategies to expand mobility, including microtransit, contracts with local taxi companies, and partnerships with area social services agencies.
In 2019, FRTA launched the FRTA Access microtransit program. In contrast to many microtransit programs that are contracted out to a third-party company, FRTA operates its microtransit in house: FRTA upgraded its scheduling software to allow riders to book on-demand rides, and uses its existing demand-response vehicles to make the trips. Eligible demand-response riders have priority when they reserve in advance, and then any remaining capacity is open to the general public through the FRTA Access app. Initially, riders could only summon rides through the app, but over time FRTA also added an online reservation as some parts of the region lack good cell coverage.
During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, FRTA paused some of its fixed-route bus service and shifted riders to the more flexible FRTA Access instead to be able to meet riders’ needs with fewer available drivers. By February 2021, operations had begun to stabilize and fixed-route buses were coming back online, so FRTA began using the microtransit to pilot weekend service – a long-time need for the region. FRTA plans to use ridership data to determine whether to provide fixed-route weekend service.
FRTA was one of six transit authorities from across the country to receive the Federal Transit Administration’s Connecting Rural Communities Award in 2021 for service provided during the pandemic.
Impact: FRTA Access has enabled FRTA to expand mobility in multiple dimensions: geographically, responding to a crisis, and temporally. FRTA was able to serve parts of its service area that were not on fixed-route bus routes.