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New England News

State Budget Boost May Not Be Enough To Prevent PVTA Cuts

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    Massachusetts state lawmakers this week passed a budget that increased funding for the agencies that provide public bus service outside greater Boston.   But it may not be enough to prevent cuts to some of that service.  

     The compromise $42 billion state budget approved by the House and Senate allocates $88 million for the state’s 15 regional transit authorities, $8 million more than what Gov. Charlie Baker proposed.

     But because some of the funding is conditional, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority may still be left with a budget deficit, according to PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan.

    " We are trying everything we can to to maintain the current service," said Sheehan.

     The budget distributes $2 million to the regional transit authorities through a funding formula. The PVTA, which is the largest of the regional bus service providers, will receive $455,000.  That leaves a shortfall of about $2.4 million, according to Sheehan.

     In order to receive a share of the additional $6 million set aside in the budget, certain conditions have to be met.  One is the signing of memorandums of understanding with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on best practices.

     "I am an optimist and I like to think MassDOT understands the needs of the region and how important transit service is for the region as a whole and they will assist us with the funding that is needed," said Sheehan.

     The regional transit authorities have not had an increase in state funding for several years while costs have gone up for labor, health care, insurance, and fuel.   Last year, the PVTA cut service on some routes with low ridership and fares were hiked recently by 20 percent.

     Plans have been drafted to reduce service on 36 of the 42 PVTA bus routes in Hampden and Hampshire counties beginning in September. There would also be fewer buses operating on Saturdays, at night, and on days when college classes are not in session.

     "We are putting together a list of the service we would like funded and hope to get a resolution sooner rather than later," Sheehan said in a telephone interview.

    She said a decision has to be made by July 25th in order to have enough lead time to implement and publicize the changes.

     State Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow said he hopes the cuts can be avoided. He said the Senate held out in the budget negotiations with the House for the higher funding for the regional transit authorities.

    "The PVTA  is really an anchor economic development and jobs tool for western Massachusetts," said Lesser, who added the entire western Massachusetts legislative delegation supported the higher funding.

     Baker has been critical of the regional transit authorities for expanding service in recent years without increasing fares.

      "I hope the governor does sign the revised figure and doesn't veto it," added Lesser.

     The budget passed by the legislature also creates a task force to look at performance and funding issues regarding the regional transit authorities.

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