A new public transportation service was unveiled today in downtown Springfield as planning continues for an expected influx of daily visitors drawn by the soon-to-open MGM casino.
Hospitality and tourism industry officials were given an inaugural ride Monday on “The Loop” – the new fare-free electric-powered bus that will make scheduled stops at downtown tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants, cultural destinations, Union Station, and the casino on a roughly hour-long route.
The new bus service is being operated by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority with the cost underwritten by MGM.
" I hope people take advantage of it," said MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis. "I think it is a great amenity for the downtown."
The Loop is part of MGM's effort to encourage its resort casino customers to patronize other businesses in western Massachusetts during their stay. It is a commitment MGM made in its host community agreement with Springfield and as a condition of receiving a casino license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
"We have trained our consierge to be able to tell our guests where there are different things they can do downtown," said Mathis. "We are trying to lengthen stays and the only way to do that is to have our customers explore the other amenities."
Mathis said MGM has agreed to fund the bus service for a year. The cost is $200,000.
"And we will go from there in terms of whether there is an interest," said Mathis. " I think some of the other tourism destinations that benefit from it should be partners with us, but we want to prove it and kickstart it like we have many things in downtown (Springfield)."
The Loop will begin running on August 24th, the day the casino is scheduled to open. It will operate Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
The PVTA wrapped the electric vehicle with graphics depicting downtown landmarks. Printed schedules and video monitors on the bus advertise attractions and PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan said the bus drivers will be able to pass along to passengers specific information about each destination.
" (The bus drivers) need to be ambassadors for the city, not only the PVTA, " said Sheehan.
The new free bus is being introduced as the PVTA has raised fares and cut some service in a bid to close a budget gap, but Sheehan said she is not concerned about The Loop luring away paying passengers.
"The reason we are not so concerned is this ( free) service does a loop around the city to the different attractions and most of our passengers are going out or coming into the city," said Sheehan.
With a projected 20,000 people a day coming to downtown Springfield to patronize the casino, Mayor Domenic Sarno said more use must be made of public transportation, such as The Loop, to ease traffic congestion.
" Traffic is good. That means there is action going on here in the city of Springfield," exclaimed Sarno. " So there has to be some patience within reason."
Also Monday, MGM announced it has contracted with King Ward Coach Lines of Chicopee to provide scheduled bus service directly to the casino from locations in western Massachusetts, including Berkshire and Franklin counties, central Massachusetts, southern Vermont and Hartford and Middlesex counties in Connecticut.