In the late 1990s, the topic of transportation arose frequently when non-profits in the Northern Berkshire County area of Western Massachusetts would meet to discuss common needs. In particular, non-profits found that the individuals they served needed assistance commuting to jobs. With help from U.S. Congressman John Olver, the region secured funding to address this need. BerkshireRides incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit to provide rides to employment and offered its first ride in 2002.
BerkshireRides operates in seven towns in Northern Berkshire County from 4 am to midnight wherever regular bus service is not available. The service transports riders to and from bus routes, takes workers to second or third shift jobs after buses have stopped running, and provides service in regions that are not served at all by public transit. Riders can use the service to get to work or any employment-related activity, such as job training or a GED class. Trips cost $2 each way, and riders need to book at least two business days in advance. Trips are also available out of the service area to a nearby employment center for a higher fare.
The story of one rider – Jessica – illustrates the value of BerkshireRides to people’s lives. Jessica supported herself and two young daughters by working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Her shift schedules forced her to travel when the bus was not in service, and she could not afford a car or taxi fares. BerkshireRides allowed her to keep her job. It also enabled her to balance work and family responsibilities by allowing her to drop her daughters off at daycare on her way to work and pick them up on her commute home. As long as riders provide their own car seats, they can bring their children into the vehicles and stop at childcare facilities on their way to and from work, for no additional fee. Although this feature is expensive for BerkshireRides to offer, it makes a huge difference in people’s lives: “It’s the only way that some people can work” notes BerkshireRides Project Manager Jana Hunkler.
The service has grown and evolved over time. At first, BerkshireRides used taxis, but once the customer base grew, it switched to a shared-ride van model, greatly reducing operating costs. Although the recession and corresponding unemployment caused ridership to decline, BerkshireRides has continued to transport many workers and is available to help residents of Northern Berkshire County get back to work as the economy recovers.
The BerkshireRides program is administered by the Berkshire Community Action Council.