State lawmakers recently convened with local officials, planners, business leaders and other concerned parties to begin looking at ways to reinstate public bus transportation in the Hathorne neighborhood of Danvers.
The area surrounding the convergence of routes 1 and 62 has experienced extensive growth in housing, services and other development since 2002 when the Mass. Bay Transportation Authority eliminated bus service to that area due to low ridership levels. The MBTA relates the closure of Danvers State Hospital in 1992 with the dip in regular fares.
These days, however, between and , the apartments, a commercial strip mall and more potential development — particularly a controversial proposal for housing on Conifer Hill and a proposed elder care facility — the need for public transportation again is clear, advocates said at a March 15 meeting at the North Shore Chamber of Commerce.
The new vocational school on the campus of is also due to open its doors within two to three years.
State Sen. Fred Berry (D-Peabody), Rep. Ted Speliotis (D-Danvers) and Chamber President Robert Bradford met with Danvers town officials, staff from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, college and healthcare administrators, private developers and others.
“I’m amazed at how many people there are leaving the hospital without transportation,” Speliotis said, referring to the medical center at the foot of the former state hospital.
Beverly Hospital spokesman Gerald MacKillop also expressed his concern for patients’ convenience. MacKillop said that in exit surveys, a significant number of patients reported the facility was difficult to get to. He added that Beverly Hospital currently often provides cabs to patients if they need one to get home after a procedure.
North Shore Community College does have its own busing service, which is heavily used by students from the Lynn campus who need to take nursing classes at the Danvers campus. Parking, however, is at a premium and should there be an emergency on campus, the fleeing cars would likely create a bottleneck for area traffic.
NSCC President Wayne Burton said the college pays $125,000 for bus transportation and would be happy to put money toward a regional transportation system if it benefited the students.
Burton said there are 4,000 students who use the Danvers campus. In a survey done by the college, 46 percent of students felt there was a need for public transportation.
Ninety percent of students have access to a vehicle, he said, but there aren’t enough parking spaces for all of them.
“The students tend to be low- to moderate-income and the costs of transportation may prohibit many others from attending,” said Burton.
“Often residents will pay for car repairs over rent, as they have no other way to get around,” said Danvers Housing Authority Executive Director Cynthia Dunn.
Dunn pointed out there would likely be an adjustment period to people using the bus.
“We need to change the culture. It won’t be used at first, but once it’s known to be reliable and convenient, it will get used,” she said.
Speliotis wants to form a coalition to further look at the need for transportation and getting an MBTA route here in town. Burton also suggested possibly bringing in an independent transportation company, such as CATA (Cape Ann Transportation Authority) in Gloucester.
Currently, the MBTA has two stops in town: in Danvers Square and at the .
The coalition will meet again on April 12 at Beverly Hospital at Danvers at 8:30 a.m. and begin seeking transportation proposals.