HUNTINGTON — On Jan. 23, the Council on Aging met with Becky Basch of Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to discuss expanding the existing demand response transportation program with the Franklin Regional Transit Authority to allow access to more riders on the buses.

Currently, seniors over 60, people living in nursing homes and veterans with a disability rating of 70% or greater as determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs, who live in Blandford, Chester, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery and Russell, may access the curb-to-curb transportation service.

Due to new automated scheduling and capacity, the FRTA is currently seeking to expand access to its services for the general public, if towns choose to participate. The FRTA will ensure priority scheduling of at least 51% of riders for seniors and medical appointments, but the all-access program will give an opportunity for the FRTA to fill empty seats with riders from the general public who are over 18.

Huntington Council on Aging Director Kathleen Peterson said in order to access the current demand-response ridership, people have to fill out an application, which also allows them to get a discounted rate. Applications are available by calling the FRTA at 413-774-2262 or may be downloaded at www.frta.org. All FRTA vehicles are wheelchair accessible and have lifts.

The cost of the service is $1.25 for one-way trips that begin and end in the same town, $1.75 for one-way trips to an adjacent town, and $2.25 for one-way trips to beyond an adjacent town. All trips to senior centers are 75 cents in town, $1 to an adjacent town, and $1.25 beyond an adjacent town.

The current FRTA schedule is Mondays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. medical trips for all towns; Tuesdays, 9-11 a.m. for appointments to the Huntington Health Center and 1-5 p.m. for shopping; Wednesdays, 9-10:30 a.m. for medical, hairstylist, barber and other appointments; Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon for shopping in Westfield; and Fridays by appointment.

Appointments must be scheduled by 6 p.m. the day before by calling the driver at 860-836-1844, but more advance notice is recommended.

Peterson said the all-access program would allow riders who don’t fall into any of these categories to be able to use the transportation, but each town in the southern Hilltowns FRTA program, which is run by Huntington, must elect to participate. She said all of the select boards in the northern Hilltowns have voted to participate in the access program.

At a recent age and dementia-friendly Huntington task force meeting, Becky Basch of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, said she will look into holding a public forum for the southern Hilltowns on the all-access program with the FRTA. Basch said whenever the public is surveyed, the number one issue raised in the Hilltowns is always transportation.

Peterson said at a follow-up meeting, Basch and Michael Perreault of the FRTA also said they would look into any grants that might help cover the costs of expanded services. Currently, the towns pay a percentage of the total trips based on utilization and demand.

Peterson said she is hoping that residents who could benefit from accessing the FRTA ridership program and who don’t qualify now will speak up and let their select boards know that increased access to ridership would be beneficial to them and to their town.

“My goal is to find people to advocate for this program,” Peterson said, adding, “In our view, we think it would be 100% the thing to do.”

amyporter@thewestfieldnews.com | + posts