PVTA Board Approves Service Cuts To Close Budget Gap
Inadequate state funding is being blamed for service cuts that will affect thousands of bus riders in the largest regional transit authority in western Massachusetts.
The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Advisory Board at a special meeting Wednesday voted to eliminate two bus routes, reduce service on 20 routes, and draw down almost one-quarter of the agency’s cash reserves to close a projected $1.7 million budget gap.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz , who chairs the advisory board, said the service cuts were an absolute last resort.
"The goal of this organization is to serve riders and none of us here want to see reductions in services in any of our communities, but we also have an obligation to provide a balanced budget, so that is the decision that has been made today," said Narkewicz.
PVTA officials had proposed even more drastic reductions that would have eliminated eight bus routes, but the plans were revised based on comments from more than 500 people at a series of 22 public hearings held over the last month.
The two routes being eliminated are an express bus between Springfield’s Union Station and the Holyoke Mall, and the Tiger Trolley in South Hadley. Among the routes spared the ax are ones that travel between the five college campuses in Hampshire County.
The service cuts approved Wednesday will save the PVTA an estimated $858,000. To cover the rest of the budget shortfall, the board voted to withdraw $431,000 from the agency’s reserve account and to withhold a scheduled $100,000 payment to an insurance fund.
" This is a combination of changes that allow us to get to a balanced budget in a responsible way," said Narkewicz.
The state budget signed Monday by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker contains $22.98 million for the PVTA, nearly $600,000 less than what the agency received last year. Increases in wages, health insurance and the cost of fuel have added to the PVTA’s budget shortfall.
Longtime advisory board member Richard Theroux of Agawam said there is a lack of commitment by the state to support the regional transit authorities.
" We can't even get funding for a transportation study of high-speed rail," lamented Theroux.
The board voted after hearing from about a dozen people who were unanimous in urging that there be no cuts to bus service.
Eric Bauer, an organizer with Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, said low-income people will be disproportionately impacted.
" These are working families who will be adversely affected," he said.
Kevin McCaffrey, director of government and community relations at Mount Holyoke College, thanked the board for sparring the bus routes that serve the Hampshire County colleges.
" One million riders a year take Five College buses and these routes contribute to the economic vitality of the valley as students, and others, travel to surrounding towns and cities for recreation, cultural events and to shop at local businesses," said McCaffrey.
For an hour leading up to the noon meeting of the PVTA board, about two dozen people rallied to protest the cuts.
They stood outside the office building where the meeting was scheduled to take place and held signs that read “Stand Up for Riders” and “Shame on You Gov. Baker.”
The service changes will take effect in the greater Springfield area on August 27 and in the Amherst-Northampton area on September 5.