May 28--Commuters hoping to avoid driving into downtown Reading when major bridge work starts this fall might be in luck.
BARTA is planning to run a rush-hour shuttle bus between a Wyomissing parking lot and downtown.
The goal is to cut the number of vehicles trying to funnel into the city during construction.
"We're going to try it for six months, see how it works and hopefully it generates enough ridership to keep it going," said BARTA Executive Director David W. Kilmer.
County officials and business leaders have been discussing how to manage traffic when the Buttonwood Street Bridge closes for repairs this fall.
BARTA's board approved the shuttle plan last week.
"We were hoping for a park-and-ride and I think this is really going to be a huge service to the people," said Berks County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt, vice chairman of the BARTA board.
Some details are still being fleshed out. But BARTA has a rough plan for the shuttle, which it hopes to start shortly before the bridge closes.
The agency is arranging to lease 100 spaces in one of the lots owned by the VF Outlet Center. The spaces are off North Park Road, opposite the railroad tracks from the outlet complex.
Buses would travel between that lot and a downtown loop that serves sites such as Reading Area Community College, county, city and state government buildings; and the BARTA Transportation Center. Buses would run every 15 minutes between 7 and 8:15 a.m. and between 3:05 and 5:35 p.m.
Kilmer said the schedule and stops might change, depending on commuters' needs.
"We'll have to play it a little bit by ear to figure out where everybody needs to go," he said.
Parking would be free for bus riders but regular bus fares would apply.
BARTA expects the trial to cost about $107,000. If there's enough interest so that fares and passes can make up for the expense, the service might be worth continuing once construction ends, Kilmer said.
After the two-year Buttonwood Street project, the Penn Street Bridge will undergo repairs. That will require lane restrictions and the closure of an exit ramp from Route 422 West, but the bridge will stay open.
The expected traffic jams would offer a good chance for people who wouldn't usually consider taking a bus to work to give it a try, said Matthew Boyer, executive director of Commuter Services of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that promotes transit, car pooling and other alternatives to commuting alone.
"Nobody likes to do something the first time," he said. "But once you're used to it, you're more willing to do it a second time."
Convenience is key to getting people to break their habits, Boyer said. So the shuttle offers a good opportunity.
Going to the lot would only take commuters coming from the west several blocks out of their way, he said. And taking the shuttle would likely be much less of a hassle than sitting in traffic and trying to find parking.
Barnhardt hopes commuters at least give the shuttle a shot. If it's able to continue after the construction, all the better.
"Dip your toe in the water and see how it works," he said.
Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or email@example.com.
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