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Second Bus Forum Raises Questions

"It's okay to support this. It's okay to ask questions. It's okay to challenge it." With those three sentences, Selectmen Chairman William Buckley opened the town's second public forum on whether to bring bus transportation to Milford. Town Meeting Members are scheduled to vote on a $250,000 request at the May 23 Annual Town Meeting to have the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA) initiate a bus loop throughout the town.

The forum, held at Milford Town Library on April 26, drew many Town Meeting Members and town officials. Buckley started off the meeting by asking whether Milford could have buses that went to commuter rail stations in Franklin and Southborough.

Carl Damigella, an MWRTA representative, explained that Franklin was in another transit authority's region and so a connection would have to be created at the Medway and Holliston town line to the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority (GATRA). Rather than Southborough, MWRTA already connects to commuter rail stops in Ashland and Framingham, he said.

Damigella said there is no bus route cast in stone yet, adding, "We will have the opportunity to change the route at any time."

Harold Rhodes, chair of the Milford Commission on Disability, said his research showed that between 29,000 and 50,000 people could be riding the buses, based on a five-days-a week, 13-hours-a-day schedule.

Many in the audience were skeptical of the need for having bus service. "Personally, I don't think this is necessary," said long-time town official Joseph Arcudi, now on the Board of Assessors. "This is something that's going to be Pandora's box. Once it's open, you're not going to be able to close it." Arcudi questioned why there was a need for the town to subsidize the bus service beyond the fares that will be charged. "There isn't a public transportation system in the world that is running without a subsidy," Buckley replied.

Town Meeting Member George Swymer zeroed in on the proposed costs, calculating that the town would be providing a $2,500 subsidy per person if only 100 people rode the bus each week, and a $1,000 per person subsidy if 250 people rode each week. "That's a large number," he said. Swymer questioned why the own just didn't add more buses like the Senior Center uses, calling that "a worthwhile alternative." Basically, he said, the $250,000 cost to the town is shifting the expense from those who need bus service to those who don't need it. "I do think there are alternatives that are less expensive," Swymer stated.

Planning Board member Lena McCarthy felt the proposal was "immature" and not ready to be brought before Town Meeting Members yet due to unanswered questions about a contract with MWRTA and the town's ability to withdraw from it. Buckley noted there will be no contract and the town can cancel the service at any time. "We can pull out at any time," he said.

The town will need enough time to develop ridership and the better time to do that is the summer, he and Rhodes suggested in answer to questions about waiting until a fall Special Town Meeting.


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