The largest public transit system in western Massachusetts is considering fare hikes and service cuts to close a projected budget deficit.
A fare hike of 25 percent and the elimination or reduction of service on more than 30 bus routes throughout the two-county system is being proposed by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to close a projected $3.1 million budget deficit.
The anticipated deficit is the result of MassDOT notifying regional transit authorities to expect no increase in state funding in the next fiscal year coupled with higher costs for fuel, wages, insurance, and other operating expenses, explained Krystal Oldread, Manager of Operations and Planning for the PVTA.
" We are getting the same amount of money from the state so we are level funded which in effect is a cut in funding because it is not keeping up with the level ( needed) to operate," said Oldread, who outlined the proposed fare changes and service cuts at a public hearing in Springfield.
A series of public hearings and outreach sessions are scheduled where people can comment on the proposals before March 15th. Click here for the schedule.
The changes, if approved by the PVTA Advisory Board at a meeting scheduled on April 11th, would take effect on July 1, 2018.
To help balance the budget, the PVTA 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.
One of the biggest changes would be the addition of a $12.50 round-trip surcharge for dial-a-ride vans to travel where the service for the elderly and disabled is not federally mandated.
The proposed service cuts include eliminating some poor-performing routes and restructuring others. Current Saturday and holiday schedules would be reduced to the level of Sunday service throughout the system.
In the Amherst-Northampton area, the number of trips on several bus routes would be reduced during the times of year when the area’s colleges are not in session.
Most of the projected budget deficit would be eliminated as a result of the proposed service cuts and not the fare hike, which is expected to raise an additional $500,000, but according to Oldread could be less if ridership drops off.
" We are anticipating if we move forward ( with the proposals) we would see a decrease in passengers," said Oldread.
In 2008, the last time the PVTA raised fares, ridership increased 2 percent. But during a round of fare hikes and service cuts in 2003-2004, ridership fell.
At the Springfield public hearing, Lorraine Crump said she’s angry about the PVTA proposals.
" We don't all have cars. We don't all have great-paying jobs. So, we depend on the bus," said Crump.
Springfield resident Tony Bass said the proposed service cuts will disproportionately affect bus routes that serve predominately minority neighborhoods.
" I ride the bus everyday,and the impact of this proposal will be truly adverse," said Bass. " The bus routes I travel. a lot of times. are packed. So I am really concerned about the impact going forward."
PVTA officials say the proposals would be adjusted if the legislature approves more money for regional transit authorities in the fiscal year 2019 state budget.