PVTA Bus Riders Facing Higher Costs, Cuts In Service
Public transit providers across Massachusetts are lobbying for more state aid. Without it, riders in many areas of the state will face cuts in bus service.
Facing a $3.1 million budget deficit, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is making plans to reduce service on 36 of its 42 bus routes in Hampden and Hampshire counties beginning in September. There would be, in general, fewer buses operating on Saturdays, at night, and on days when college classes are not in session, according to PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan.
"The changes that are proposed are going to disrupt our passengers, no doubt about it," said Sheehan.
The only way the service cutbacks could be averted, Sheehan said, is if the state comes through with more money in the fiscal year that starts July 1st.
The 15 regional transit authorities are lobbying for an $8 million increase in state funding.
" I am hopeful the House and the Senate will allocate the resources the PVTA and the other RTAs need in order for us to continue and maintain the level of service we provide," said Sheehan.
But last week, the House Ways and Means Committee went along with the Baker administration’s proposal to fund the regional transit authorities at about the same amount as this year: $80 million.
The PVTA gets revenue from fares it collects from riders, from advertising, and payments from the 24 municipalities it serves and from the five colleges in Hampshire County. But half the authority’s $47 million operating budget comes from the state.
In contrast with the MBTA, which has raised fares three times since 2012, many of the regional transit authorities have not hiked fares in years.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who chairs the 24-member PVTA Advisory Board, said at the urging of the state, the board agreed to raise fares by 20 percent, to $1.50 a bus trip, starting on July 1st. It’s the first fare hike in 10 years.
" I believe it is a reasonable increase of a quarter and it still keeps PVTA's rates among the lowest in the state," said Narkewicz.
Patrick Burke, the passenger advocate on the PVTA Advisory Board, said the people who have no alternative but public transportation will be hurt by even a modest price increase.
"Its poor folks in Holyoke and Springfield, predominately people of color, who are going to bare the cost, and I think that is unfair," said Burke.
Public transit advocates fear the combination of higher fares and reduced service will start a so-called “death spiral” for the regional transit authorities.
Administrator Sheehan expects there will be a falloff in ridership if the planned service cuts are carried out.
"We are very concerned people will not find it as convenient to ride the bus especially on Saturdays, if we are providing only one-third of the service they are use to," said Sheehan.
The Baker administration points out that regional transit authorities in 2014 received an increase in funding from $67 million to $80 million.
And, more state funds have been awarded for capital projects such as the new bus maintenance center the PVTA is building in Springfield.