MVRTA’s Berger May Not be Driving the Bus, But he is Forced to Steer Around Obstacles

Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority Administrator Noah S. Berger plans to ride on every bus route to solicit feedback. (Courtesy photograph.)

A shortage of qualified drivers, a lack of specified bus stops and problems with its parking garage are among issues facing the new administrator of the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority.

Noah S. Berger, who took the job in August, addressed the Haverhill City Council Tuesday speaking about some of those issues.

“Certainly, this is a challenging time to operate any transit service and we are at about 65% of the pre-COVID ridership right now and we’re also operating at a time when costs have never been higher. The rate of inflation is far above what we had put in our budgets and we’re also facing a national driver shortage,” he said.

Berger, invited by Councilor Timothy J. Jordan, said the issues are forcing tough choices, such as temporarily suspending Sunday service. He also told the Council he has been riding the buses himself, talking to riders about what the MVRTA is doing right and where improvements can be made. He said those discussions have revealed some frustration with a lack of actual bus stops along the routes.

“One of the things that came out is that we don’t really have bus stops. Now, that works great for someone is very familiar with the system, knows exactly where to get on, where to get off, when the bus is coming, where it is going, but for the uninitiated, it can be pretty intimidating, so we want to change that,” he explained.

Berger also reported he is in negotiations now to provide a hefty increase in pay to the company’s drivers.

Councilor John A. Michitson asked if the Authority is considering electric vehicles. Berger responded although that is clearly the future of the industry, at present the promised range of those buses is inadequate. He said when technology reaches the level necessary, the agency would likely move in that direction.

Another issue, reported previously by WHAV, is the MVRTA garage’s land along the Merrimack River, has eroded over the last few years. The Haverhill Conservation Commission Thursday night gave its approval to a plan to shore up that area of the river.

Berger acknowledged the problem and said the agency is considering its options.

“So, that is a concern. There are different options that are on the table. One is completely relocating. The other would be to have a second facility. It may make sense to have a Haverhill garage and a Lawrence garage,” he explained.

Councilors also asked about the capacity of the company’s downtown Haverhill parking garage. The Council has approved a number of multi-family building requests based on an agreement residents would be allowed to park in the MVRTA’s garage.

Berger said he learned operating the garage is actually similar to operating an airline in that spaces are often oversold. Because drivers work different shifts and have different schedules, there is still room. That is not the case, Jordan said, when there is a downtown event.

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