Mayor James J. Fiorentini Wednesday endorsed an idea raised by Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua this week to provide free bus rides to help people get to work.
The proposal, which Bevilacqua introduced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, was looked upon favorably in theory but raised questions, particularly about how the project would be financed.
Bevilacqua pointed to Lawrence that has had success with providing free rides through the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, but Councilor William J. Macek disputed the claim.
“The amount they are paying is about $225,000, if I remember correctly and that those busses are free to anybody, young, old, you know, going to work, going to shop, going to sit in the park for the day,” Macek said.
Fiorentini acknowledged to WHAV such a program requires spending. He said, “Absolutely, it will cost money. We’re looking at (federal) CDBG money, but it’s an idea worth pursuing.” He added, “We have a two-fold problem. Our employers tell us we can’t get employees. In Mount Washington and the Acre, there are people who can’t get to work.”
Before he goes much further, the mayor said he will ask Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera whether the program there actually resulted in increased bus ridership.
When Macek pointed out Lawrence is paying for the service through its surplus, Councilor Timothy J. Jordan said the city has many needs and he would want to weigh priorities. Other councilors Tuesday noted a group called the Haverhill Transportation Alliance is already in the process of trying to create a ride referral service through Uber Central that would not rely on taxpayer money. That program is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $90,00 annually.
It is being organized by the Haverhill YMCA, Community Action, Merrimack Valley Regional Transportation Authority, Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, Fidelity House CRC, Haverhill Community Development Department, Northern Essex Community College, Northern Essex Elder Transport and Community InRoads.
In the end, councilors decided to ask Fiorentini for a meeting to include the Transportation Alliance and the MVRTA to discuss the idea further.