A proposed 25 percent fare hike and service cutbacks at the largest regional transit authority in western Massachusetts is drawing attention from city councilors in Springfield and the leaders of area colleges.
The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority has proposed raising fares and eliminating or reducing service on more than 30 bus routes throughout the two-county system because of a projected $3.1 million budget gap the agency blames on inadequate state funding.
Springfield City Councilor Marcus Williams fears the cuts will harm senior citizens, low-income residents and disabled persons who rely on the public bus system.
" The plans also include reducing weekend service that would affect those who don't have other modes of transportation as well as college students who commute back and forth ( between Springfield) and the Northampton-Amherst area," said Williams.
Williams scheduled a meeting Thursday evening of the council’s Maintenance and Development committee, which he chairs, to hear from a representative of the PVTA and bus riders.
PVTA officials have explained the anticipated budget deficit is the result of MassDOT notifying all of the state’s regional transit authorities to expect no increase in state funding in the next fiscal year coupled with higher costs for such things as fuel, wages and insurance.
To balance its budget, the PVTA administration proposes raising the basic cash fare from the existing $1.25 to $1.60. The cost for a weekly and monthly pass would also go up.
Williams cited concerns about the proposed addition of a surcharge for dial-a-ride van trips for the elderly and disabled, along with changes to bus routes serving some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
" The disdain for what is going on has been expressed to us from throughout the various wards in the city," Williams said.
The PVTA has held a series of public hearings on the changes which would take effect July 1, 2018, if approved by the PVTA Advisory Board at a meeting scheduled for April 11th.
The board consists of a representative from each of the 24 cities and towns in Hampden and Hampshire counties where the PVTA operates.
Williams said he expects to draft a resolution for the full City Council to weigh-in before the April 11th meeting.
" If we are showing solidarity on the issue it sends a strong statement to the PVTA about what we are willing and not willing to accept," said Williams.
A recent letter from the leaders of area colleges calls on the state to increase funding for public transportation.
The letter was sent on behalf of the Five College Consortium, which is made up of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The letter was sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, State Senate President Harriette Chandler, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Karen Spilka and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jeffrey Sánchez.
Consortium spokesman Kevin Kennedy said the letter argues the PVTA bus service in the Northampton-Amherst area is essential to help thousands of students get to class, participate in campus activities, and contribute to the region’s economy by visiting retailers, restaurants and cultural events.
"We recognize that the PVTA is trying to make the best of a very difficult situation and we've been working with them to try to come up with solutions if these budget cuts eventually go through," said Kennedy.
PVTA officials say most of the projected budget deficit would be eliminated as a result of the proposed service cuts and not the fare hike. The higher fares are expected to raise an additional $500,000, but that could be less if ridership drops substantially.