BOSTON (SHNS) – A group of Franklin County lawmakers is keeping up the pressure on the Baker administration to back away from its plan to consolidate a state-run transportation service that provides access to health care appointments and other services.
Five legislators, including three from the House and two from the Senate, wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on Friday to express their concern that the Franklin Regional Transit Authority will no longer be allowed to participate in the Human Service Transportation (HST) program. The letter was sent Friday, a little more than a week before the House will debate its fiscal 2022 budget and consider an amendment (#1120) proposed by two high-ranking House Democrats — Reps. Sarah Peake and William Straus — that would impose a two-year moratorium on the new contracts taking effect.
Dozens of lawmakers asked the administration early this year to pause the new contracts for HST services due to go into effect on July 1. The Baker administration has signed contracts with two regional transit agencies to manage services across three regions statewide, a reduction from the current nine-region network operated by six regional transit authorities. Transportation services in Franklin County would be brokered by the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, based in Fitchburg.
“The transportation needs of Franklin County residents should remain in local hands — not with a service broker nearly 100 miles away. We request that the implementation of this change in service brokers be suspended and services remain as is because it is in the best interest of our constituents, the current service brokers and the Commonwealth,” wrote Reps. Natalie Blais, Paul Mark and Susannah Whipps, and Sens. Jo Comerford and Adam Hinds.
The Democrats said the Franklin Regional Transit Authority, which has been operating HST services in the county, was not allowed to apply to become a subcontractor, and the legislators said they worried residents would lose their personal touch-point to the system, despite a high quality of service being delivered. The letter was sent in response to Sudders defending the changes to the HST program just a week earlier after she met with Reps. Straus and Peake to hear their concerns.