Select Board expresses concerns about proposed GATRA route changes
During the board’s Oct. 5 meeting, members of the Select Board expressed concerns about the proposed cuts to GATRA’s bus service in Wareham.
Primarily citing low ridership as the cause, GATRA has proposed new routes that would stop providing service in some areas. Service to Shangri La — the neighborhood in East Wareham on the north end of Glen Charlie Road, which is also known as White Island Shores — would be cut, as would service within the portion of Cranberry Highway between Main Avenue and Onset Avenue.
GATRA is currently collecting comments on the proposed changes and will likely make adjustments to the proposed routes before having another public meeting in mid-October. It is unlikely changes to the bus routes would take place before January 2022.
After learning of the proposed cuts, Jaime Rebhan-Buckminster wrote a memo to Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside and Town Administrator Derek Sullivan, outlining the potential impact of reducing GATRA bus service for the Shangri La neighborhood.
Currently, the Link 3 GATRA bus route runs from Shangri La to Cranberry Plaza on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Rebhan-Buckminster cited American Community Surveys data, which indicates nearly 73 percent of the households in the Shangri La neighborhood are low or moderate income households.
“While bus service to Shangri La White Island Shores may not be the most efficient to run, eliminating it would create a food and transportation desert for the neighborhood’s most vulnerable residents,” Rebhan-Buckminster wrote. “Those without a vehicle would only reasonably be able to access the 7-Eleven convenience store on Barker Road — assuming that they’re able to make the trek.”
Necessities such as food and toiletries tend to be higher-priced at convenience stores, Rebhan-Buckminster noted, compared to “larger retailers such as Stop & Shop or Dollar Tree — both located on the bus route at Cranberry Plaza.”
Rebhan-Buckminster also pointed out that many families in Shangri La likely rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP benefits, which helps those in need put food on the table.
“Providing access to larger retailers for residents in need allows them to stretch their limited household budgets and benefits further,” Rebhan-Buckminster wrote.
Whiteside presented the memo to the rest of the Select Board, and several members of the board echoed similar concerns.
Select Board member Alan Slavin said part of the problem is that GATRA — like other forms of public transportation — is struggling to increase its ridership back to pre-pandemic levels.
“The ridership level — they don’t believe it’s ever going to go back to where it was before covid,” he said.
But even taking into account that some service has to be cut, Slavin said he was not happy that service to Shangri La was on the chopping block.
Select Board member Peter Teitelbaum said that people are just starting to return to the workforce now that federal unemployment benefits have ended. For that reason, he said “it’s too early for GATRA to draw any conclusions” about the pandemic’s long-term impact on ridership.
Teitelbaum suggested the board ask GATRA to maintain service to Shangri La for at least another six months to gather more ridership information.
Select Board members Jim Munise and Whiteside both said they were not in favor of cutting service to Shangri La. Munise asked if it would be possible to get a GATRA representative to come before the board and provide more information.
After expressing their concerns, members of the board unanimously voted to authorize Whiteside to write letter to GATRA, in which the board will ask a GATRA representative to come speak about the proposed service cuts at a future meeting.