BEVERLY — For people who take the commuter rail, the gap between the train station and their final destination is often traveled on foot.
It's what public transit advocates refer to as the "last mile" problem. And it's one that North Shore planners are trying to solve by launching an experimental shuttle service.
The shuttle would travel between the Beverly train depot to Cummings Center in Beverly, Cherry Hill Corporate Center on the Beverly/Danvers line, and other businesses near Route 128 in Beverly and Danvers.
Andrea Leary, executive director of the North Shore Transportation Management Association, said organizers are hoping to start the shuttle later this winter or early next spring.
"We think it's going to be pretty successful, quite frankly," she said.
The shuttle idea came about after the North Shore Coalition of Mayors and Managers, working with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, commissioned a study of transportation needs on the North Shore. The study identified transportation gaps in several areas, including between the Beverly train depot and Cummings Center, Cherry Hill Corporate Center, and the Route 128 area.
The North Shore Coalition of Mayors and Managers was awarded a $125,000 state grant in January to help launch the project. Planners surveyed businesses in those areas and found that 67 percent (150 out of 225 respondents) indicated that they would use the shuttle.
Of those, 70 percent said they would use the service three to five days per week, and 73 percent said they would be willing to change their work hours to use the shuttle.
Companies whose workers use the shuttle would be asked to help fund the service, which would be free for employees.
Elias Witman, the sustainability coordinator for Cell Signaling Technology, said he is "95 percent sure" the company will participate. Cell Signaling is located on Trask Lane off Route 128 on the Beverly-Danvers line.
"It's a win-win situation, but it's also a hard sell because the price tag is high for small businesses," Witman said. "My company is really committed to sustainability and environmental protection."
Witman, who takes the train from Cambridge to Beverly and then bikes to Cell Signaling, said his company offers bonuses to employees who carpool to work. It could extend the same offer to people who take the shuttle, he said.
"If folks wanted to bike or walk to the shuttle pickup point, they would also be eligible to get a ride on the shuttle," he said. "I think it's crucial that we have all the seats full for this to be a success."
Witman said the shuttle service could help companies in their recruitment of new employees.
"If you tell an applicant that a shuttle service exists, that value is already there," he said.
The shuttle would likely run during peak morning and afternoon commuter hours, said Leary, whose organization would manage and market the service. The exact drop-off points are still to be determined.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council issued a request for proposals from transportation companies interested in operating the shuttle and are now deciding from among three applicants.
Leary said planners are hoping to run the shuttle as a pilot program for two years. If it works, it could be used as a model for other locations on the North Shore.
"The goal would be for the North Shore to expand all of its transportation connections and have everything running in sync," she said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.