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Students, others wary of effects of possible PVTA cuts 

  • Tulsi Vembu, of Sunderland, boards the Route 31 bus on Feb. 8, 2018. The PVTA's proposed changes to the schedule would have the bus come less frequently during “reduced service” times. Vembu would like the PVTA to pay more attention to bus stop maintenance. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Vishnu Raman, center, in black, gets ready to board the Route 31 bus in Sunderland on Feb. 8, 2018. Raman claims he always takes the bus when there is snow on the ground, and is opposed to the PVTA's proposal decreasing the frequency in which the bus comes in winter. Recorder Staff/David McLellan —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Vishnu Raman, center, in black, gets ready to board the Route 31 bus in Sunderland on Feb. 8, 2018. Raman claims he always takes the bus when there is snow on the ground, and is opposed to the PVTA's proposal decreasing the frequency in which the bus comes in winter. Recorder Staff/David McLellan —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • The Route 31 bus in Sunderland pulls away from a bus stop, full of students and town residents, on Feb. 8, 2018. The PVTA Advisory Board has proposed increasing the fare and reducing the number of trips many of its buses make during "reduced service" times, due to a potential $3.1 million operating budget deficit. Recorder Staff/David McLellan —Recorder Staff/David McLellan



Recorder Staff
Sunday, February 11, 2018

SUNDERLAND — The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is proposing a 25 percent fare hike and reductions in services, leaving some Franklin County residents disgruntled.

The changes are an attempt to remedy a potential $3.1 million operating budget deficit, and, according to the PVTA Advisory Board, would go into effect on July 1, 2018.

If realized, the proposal would affect services in 24 western Massachusetts cities and towns. Sunderland and Deerfield would lose Route 46 altogether and see the frequency of buses on Route 31 during “reduced service” weekdays change from every 30 minutes to every 60 to 65 minutes.

“We take the bus all year because we’re always here,” said Kieran Ramos of Sunderland, while waiting for a Route 31 bus near the Cliffside Apartments bus stop.

Ramos is a graduate student and, like all students, faculty and staff of the Five College Consortium, rides the bus for free. While he is unaffected by the proposed price hike from $1.25 to $1.60 per trip, he said the reduced frequency during summer and winter months will be a challenge.

“It will be much less convenient,” said Ramos, who also said he would be willing to pay a small fee if necessary to keep the bus schedules the same.

The Advisory Board has planned public hearings and outreach sessions in the affected communities, but none of the meetings take place in Sunderland or Deerfield. The board is focusing on its changes during “reduced service” periods — generally, days the schools of the Five College Consortium are not in session.

To people like Tulsi Vembu, the PVTA should focus more on fixing existing problems, like poor conditions at bus stops, rather than looking to reduce anything in terms of service.

“They should make sure all that is cleared away first,” said Vembu, who was annoyed about trudging through snow to get from the bus stop to the bus. “I think it will be a problem,” he said of the proposed changes.

Matthew Eden, a University of Massachusetts senior, said he would rather pay a fare than for the bus come less frequently. Eden lives at the Sugarloaf Estates, the farthest point from Amherst on Route 31. He is most concerned the PVTA would decrease the frequency of buses during the school day, something the Advisory Board has not proposed.

“That’s my way to and from campus. Every time, it’s packed,” Eden said. “My roommates all do it too so it’s going to affect a lot of people.”

Other proposed changes include charging a $5 premium on the senior citizens and disabled persons vehicles when the trip is farther than three-fourths of a mile. In Sunderland and Deerfield, the Senior Van Service will no longer take passengers to adult day health centers, and trips may only be booked to other cities and towns served by the PVTA.

Alison Decker said the PVTA should be more aware of people who don’t have cars in the area, which include the many people who are from a different state or country, but are in the area to attend school.

“I’m from California, so I don’t have a car. And it wouldn’t make sense for me to get a car,” said Decker, who lives by Route 46, the route the proposal would eliminate. “That’d be hard on residents, too. I don’t think it’d be a win for anyone.”

Vishnu Raman of Sunderland is less concerned that buses will come less frequently in the summer, because he likes to ride his bike. However, he realizes not all people can do that, and also expressed concern that the buses would run on reduced schedules during the winter.

“If it snows, I always take the bus,” Raman said.

The advisory board cites decreasing state funds, as well as fares that have not gone up in price for a decade as reasons for the budgetary shortcoming, and proposes reducing the frequency of buses on most bus routes after 6 p.m. In addition to the first 25 percent fare increase, the fare would go up 5 percent each year for the next three years.

Public hearings will take place starting Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the Palmer Town Hall. They will continue throughout March. For times and locations, visit: pvta.com/meetingNotices.php

David McLellan can be reached at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.