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Seniors Rip Possible PVTA Service Cuts

A man in a wheelchair is on a lift to a PVTA van

Dozens of people attended the monthly meeting of  the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Advisory Board in Springfield today to protest possible cuts to senior van service.

Seniors and their advocates decried a proposal to cap the number of van trips available for seniors when total ridership hits a certain level in order to improve the on-time performance of the paratransit service for people with disabilities.

" I think all of you know this is a bad idea," said  John Bennett, a longtime community activist, who offered to work with the board, which is made up of representatives from each of the 24 communities served by the PVTA, to come up with other options to improve on-time performance.

The PVTA offers so-called dial-a-ride trips to seniors using the same vans as the paratransit service for the disabled. The federally-mandated ride service for people with disabilities has a 95 percent on-time performance goal under the current contract. PVTA officials say the on-time rate has dropped below 90 percent.

A proposal for improving the on-time rate that was discussed by PVTA Advisory Board members last month would effectively cut senior use by more than 60 percent according to Patti Williams, an organizer with the Massachusetts Senior Action Council. 

She said with the elderly population increasing in western Massachusetts, the PVTA should look to provide more service, not reduce it.

" Please, do not, do not curtail the service to seniors" she urged the board. " Do not make us prisoners in our own homes."

Williams said about 500 seniors in the greater Springfield area use the van service weekly. Most of the trips are to medical appointments and shopping.

The PVTA Advisory Board took no action Wednesday. PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes said several options for improving on-time performance of the paratransit vans are being looked at and public hearings will be held before any changes occur.

" It is unfortunate that word got out to the seniors about this because it may be causing unnecessary concern," MacInnes said in an interview after the board meeting.

Most regional transit authorities in Massachusetts, including the MBTA, do not provide senior van service. The PVTA has done so for many years, according to long time PVTA Advisory Board member Richard Theroux of Agawam.

" It is a policy decision and one we have to look at," he said, adding  " With the generation growing that needs these rides to get around, I think it is our responsibility. That is where I stand, that is where Agawam's vote stands. We have to keep these seniors mobile and it is PVTA's job to do so."

The PVTA said ridership on the paratransit vans is up 18 percent from a year ago with seniors who are not disabled accounting for most of the increase.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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