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PVTA eyes expanded bus routes

An effort by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to expand and improve bus service throughout the region is fueling a bevy of proposed route changes that transportation officials believe will make riding the bus more convenient for thousands of customers — and might attract new riders.

New routes are proposed in both Northampton and Amherst, as well as many other changes to routes that snake through Hampshire County’s two largest communities. The recommendations, unveiled last week, reflect the results of the authority’s yearlong comprehensive analysis of its bus routes.

The proposed improvements come at an opportune time for the PVTA, as the authority is expecting to increase its budget by about $4 million next fiscal year. That extra money is the result of a new state law approved last year that ties funding for regional transportation authorities to ridership. Given that the PVTA services 39 percent of all regional transit authority riders statewide, the change is proving beneficial, Administrator Mary MacInnes said.

It also makes funding the recommended route improvements possible, she said.

“These recommendations are very timely,” MacInnes said. “This is a very exciting time for PVTA and our riders.”

The PVTA Advisory Board approved the recommendations as part of a report created by Nelson/Nygaard, a transportation consulting firm that spent several months analyzing the effectiveness of the authority’s bus routes.

The PVTA is expected to hold public hearings throughout the Valley, including in Northampton and Amherst, over the next several weeks to gather feedback before it sends a final package to the board for a June vote. A hearing schedule is expected to be announced this week, MacInnes said.

If approved, the changes would be implemented in phases, with the first starting in September and the second in December, depending on how quickly the proper number of buses can be secured, routes developed and drivers selected, among other factors.

Changes in Amherst

Among the recommendations are two new routes in Amherst and an express bus between the University of Massachusetts campus and the Holyoke Transportation Center.

The biggest change is the proposal to create a new weekday bus route, called G33, looping through Amherst and the UMass campus at 40-minute intervals. The service would start at 7:20 a.m. and end at 6:30 p.m. with no service on weekends.

The route would connect Stop & Shop and Big Y supermarkets to University Drive, Amity Street, North Pleasant Street through the UMass campus, Eastman Lane, East Pleasant Street to Cushman Center, Pine Street, Route 63 North, Mill Street, Pulpit Hill Road and Route 63 South before looping back through the UMass campus, Amity Street and University Drive.

Two Amherst routes would be discontinued and folded into this new route — the G32, which services Puffer’s Pond and Atkins Farms, and B37, also known as the Amity Shuttle.

Amherst Town Manager John Musante, who serves as chairman of the PVTA Advisory Board, told the Select Board Monday this reconfigured Amity Shuttle would double the frequency of service by having two buses active on the route at once.

This meets PVTA’s objectives of increasing frequency of runs and making routes more straight line east-west and north-south, Musante said. It also shows, Musante said, that there is potential for a 10 to 15 percent increase in ridership.

“There’s opportunities in Amherst to make a bus system even better,” Musante said.

The second new Amherst route proposal, called G36, would run in one-hour intervals Monday through Saturday when colleges are not in session. The route would connect UMass’ Haigis Mall, North Pleasant Street, downtown Amherst, South Pleasant Street and Atkins Farms.

PVTA also is considering a new express bus, called R29E, connecting UMass at the Haigis Mall to the Holyoke Transportation Center and the Holyoke Mall, with a stop at Mount Holyoke College off Route 116 in South Hadley along the way. The new route would operate on a two-hour frequency seven days a week.

Meanwhile, Minuteman Express, or M40, between Smith College and UMass, would begin hourly service Saturdays from 7:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and add a stop at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley in both directions. There would be no changes to weekday service during the school year.

The B34 and B35 would remain unchanged except for a stop at the Haigis Mall, and there are no proposed changes to other Amherst routes, including several that shuttle among the five colleges.

Northampton changes

Northampton is also in line for changes, should PVTA adopt the proposal. Chief among these is a new crosstown route that would serve the Northampton Survival Center, YMCA and several other stops in the city.

Other key service changes that are part of the board’s recommendations involve expanding the hours for Northampton’s two existing routes and expanding routes between Northampton and Holyoke Community College and between Northampton and Amherst.

As outlined in the Gazette on Saturday, the signature change is the creation of the new circular route through Northampton. This X98 Crosstown bus would provide service connecting the Walter Salvo House and the Senior Center on Conz Street, downtown Northampton, the Northampton Survival Center and YMCA on Prospect Street, Jackson Street, Hampshire Plaza where Big Y and Wal-Mart are located, and River Valley Market on North King Street.

The Crosstown bus would provide service every two hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and allow for connections to the other two routes that serve Northampton — R42 and R44.

Meanwhile, the R42 bus between Northampton and Williamsburg would expand to running every hour. The bus currently operates roughly every hour in the morning and afternoon and every two hours in the middle of the day. The R44 route serving Northampton and Florence would expand, with service beginning at 6 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends. Service on this route currently starts at 6:20 a.m. on weekdays and 9:20 a.m. on weekends.

Other changes include an expansion of the R41 route between Northampton and Holyoke Community College to operate year-round, as well as connecting directly to the Holyoke Mall, and conversion of the B43 route between Northampton and Amherst to a “Bus Rapid Transit” corridor. Such corridors feature more frequent service, signal priority, dedicated transit lanes at intersections and upgraded passenger amenities.

More information about PVTA’s service analysis recommendations can be found at www.pvta.com/csa.php.

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