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Transit fare hikes, route cuts protested at UMass

  • Commuters, local leaders and students gather outside the Old Chapel at the UMass Amherst to protest potential PVTA rate hikes and route cuts. Gazette Photo



For the Recorder
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

AMHERST — Commuters, local leaders and students protested within earshot of lawmakers Monday against proposed route cuts and fare hikes being floated by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, saying such moves would hurt the region’s marginalized communities.

About 20 protesters made their case outside the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Monday morning while the Joint Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing inside on Gov. Charlie Baker’s 2019 budget.

At issue for the protesters were route cuts and fare hikes proposed by the PVTA to compensate for an expected $3.1 million shortfall in state funding.

“The reason we’re out here today is because Gov. Baker’s budget proposal seriously underfunds public transit throughout the state,” said Patrick Burke, rider representative to the PVTA advisory board. “We wanted to make a presence out here while the committee had their hearing.”

The hearing was to be closed, but protestors were eventually allowed inside on the condition that they be silent.

The governor’s $40.9 billion budget proposal prompted the PVTA to propose an increase in bus fares across the board, with the adult basic cash fare increasing from $1.25 to $1.60 per ride. The PVTA also is considering reductions in service. For example, trips would be eliminated after 8 p.m on weekdays on Route 46 between Amherst, Sunderland and South Deerfield.

Although students of the five colleges ride for free, they will have fewer route options.

The 15 regional transit authorities in Massachusetts are slated to continue to be allocated at the current level of $80.4 million for bus and van service under the proposed budget. Transportation for Massachusetts, a 70-member coalition that works to create safe and affordable transportation, says the RTAs need closer to $88 million to keep services the same.

As legislators walked into the building for the hearing, a few dozen protesters chanted, “No cuts, no hikes” and other slogans while they stood outside the chapel holding signs that read, “Fund Public Transit” and “Save PVTA.”

“This is an issue of the vulnerable. When we raise fares, poor people pay for it the worst. When we reduce services to public transit, disabled people are most disenfranchised, working people are most disenfranchised,” said James Cordero, a UMass student organizer for the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy. “Public transportation is an investment in working people and working economies.”

Funding cuts for the PVTA that result in route and service cuts worry commuters who rely on public transit to get to work and school. Protesters at the rally said the cuts would disproportionately affect marginalized groups in the Pioneer Valley, as it would make it more difficult to afford and use the service.

“I thought that the five college consortium in particular had some responsibility to help lobby for state funding for this system, especially if our schools believe in things like social justice,” said Camille Gladieux, Student Government Association president and a senior at Mount Holyoke. “This is really important.”

For some, the proposed cuts would have a direct effect. Evan Kuras is a graduate student at UMass who lives in Northampton and relies on the PVTA to get to campus.

“I take the bus so I can get my education here and do my research,” Kuras said. “We need transit so people can live and work in the region and come to school here, go to lectures here and involve themselves in the community here. It’s essential.”