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January 28 Meeting Slated to Discuss Local Bus Service

The Board of Selectmen took a giant step at their December 14 meeting toward bringing local bus service to Milford by authorizing a public meeting at 6 p.m. on January 28 in the Ruth Anne Bleakney Senior Center to gauge where residents and businesses might like buses to stop, and then having officials use that information to come up with a proposed budget. Currently, the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA) sends one bus to Milford from Holliston in the morning and one from Milford to Holliston in the evening.

Selectmen Chairman Brian Murray opened the lengthy discussion by stating local bus service is "something that has been looked at by this board a number of years ago" and the topic was "resurrected" last year by Harold Rhodes, chair of the Commission on Disability. "I think the time is appropriate," Murray said. "Ultimately, the goal is to make public transportation a reality in Milford."

MWRTA Administrator Ed Carr said Milford would be connected to all 15 other communities served by his agency. If Milford agrees to add service, five regional hospitals could be interconnected, he said. "As these communities are aging, more and more people are going to need this transportation. It's a lifeline for people," Carr said. Commuters rely on the bus service, he said.

"We clearly see the need to be connected to Milford," Carr said. With that connection, people could leave Milford, connect to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority's commuter rail and subway lines and go to Logan Airport and fly to Europe, he projected.

Currently, the MWRTA's $8-million budget is split between fixed-route service and demand response service for the elderly and disabled, Carr explained. Last year, an initial estimate from the MWRTA for Milford came in at $250,000 annually. Rhodes, at Selectman William Buckley's request, calculated the cost of Milford providing such services by itself as high as $400,000 per year. Rhodes also found no company in the area could scale up to meet Milford's transportation needs.

Frank Saba, outgoing chief executive officer of Milford Regional Medical Center, wrote the board a letter in support of the local bus routes. Murray said the hospital, health care and biotechnology companies are what drive the economy. "If that segment of industry is telling us that public transportation is an issue, then that's something to look into," the chairman said.

"It's a quality of life issue," said Ellen Freedman, manager, Office of Community Benefits, Milford Regional Healthcare Foundation. "It's not just one hospital. It's a connection to a lot of resources." She added, "There's a lot of opportunity to get people to their appointments" at hospitals, the cancer center and doctors' offices.

Rhodes noted his survey of town departments found the lack of transportation affecting the Milford Housing Authority's tenants, the Ruth Anne Bleakney Senior Center and the Milford Youth Center. Veterans Agent John Pilla mentioned using the service to get people to the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Boston.

"It's such a positive thing for the community," commented Siobhan Bohnson, president/CEO of the Milford Area Chamber of Commerce. "It's such a huge need." The Chamber plans to poll its membership about the issue, Bohnson added. "Any initiative that helps with employment and with business is something the Chamber would support."

"For me, it's a quality of life issue," Buckley stated. In addition to helping individuals get to a destination, local bus service might reduce downtown traffic congestion, he said. Pointing to various reports about the need, Buckley noted, "From a data standpoint, there's a lot of reasons. From a human standpoint, there's a lot of reasons" to support local bus transportation. "I don't think I need to be sold on the demand. I think the demand is there," Buckley said."We just need more information."

"I, for one, would like to see fixed route and fixed service within Milford," said Selectmen William Kingkade.

Carr explained that it would take time to determine what the local routes would be, other than starting at the Holliston town line and ending at Milford Regional Medical Center. Where the buses stop is "pretty much determined by you, the community," he said. "We're amenable to whatever you want to do." He did remind the board that, "If you go fixed route, you still have the obligation to provide ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] service."

Currently, the MWRTA charges $1.50 for an adult to ride its buses, $1 for students 75 cents for seniors. The adult fare is reduced to $1.25 if a rider uses the MBTA's "Charlie Card", Carr said.

All towns currently served by the MWRTA except Hudson pay their apportioned share of costs through their state aid assessments, Carr explained. Because Milford does not have a "T" assessment, it would have to come up with the funding to add the bus service, Murray explained.

Murray said he wanted the public meeting held this month. "I don't want to lose the momentum on this particular project," he said.




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