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Ruminations

It's getting time for the town's leaders to decide if they want to kill off the town's fledgling bus service or give it another year to see if it reaches its potential.

The background on this: Last year, the town agreed to fund the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA) providing local bus service in town – for one year. Not everyone in town government thought it is needed. The service began in late August and – without any marketing or promotion – ridership has increased fairly steadily each month. OK, to be fair, it did drop during February's snowstorms. Critics say the number of riders is nowhere near what was promised.

Here's the dilemma: The Annual Town Meeting is in May. The Finance Committee has to make its recommendations on funding before then. At that point, there only will be eight months of ridership data available. Is that enough time to evaluate what was described as a "pilot" program? Or, should it be extended another year so that – a year from now – there could be 20 months of ridership numbers to look at?

Part of the renewal discussion should be that the whole concept of getting on a bus is brand new to people in Milford. By this, I mean that where I grew up in New Jersey, bus service was widespread. It was an accepted means of transportation that everyone used to go to work, go shopping, go to another part of town, go to nearby towns, etc. There is no such tradition or culture here. In fact, many people still don't even realize there's a local bus service.

I am being charitable when I say that the MWRTA did an absolutely poor job of marketing and promoting the new bus service. Beyond a volunteer advisory committee's efforts, the town did an equally poor job. Sometimes, you know, it takes time for a new "product" to take off. It's an easier job if people at least know about it.

If I asked 10 Milfordians at random where to find the local bus schedule, I seriously doubt that any of them would know – except to say it's probably somewhere on the Internet. (Which it is, on the town website's home page.)

Another part of the renewal discussion should be what happens to the people who are now taking the bus if there is no more bus? The mere fact that people are taking it in increasing numbers means they need it to get around. These are people, not statistics.

At least one Finance Committee member is fond of dividing the cost of a project by the number of people using it to come up with a cost per participant. His logic is the town spent "x thousand dollars per child for the new Woodland Elementary School and for renovating the Milford Youth Center and "x" dollars per ride on the bus.

While that may be a valid financial measure, I'm not sure it applies to the idea of helping someone go to a doctor's appointment or their job.




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