Transit authorities would get $6M boost in Healey’s budget


Staff Writer

Published: 03-14-2023 6:34 PM

GREENFIELD — The Franklin Regional and Pioneer Valley transit authorities are on deck to receive a share of a proposed $6 million of extra transit spending in Gov. Maura Healey’s recently unveiled state budget proposal.

The first proposed budget by the Healey administration contains a $25 million appropriation for regional transit funding and grants. This is in addition to $96 million allocated toward transit authorities, an amount consistent with funding in previous years.

Of that additional spending, $6 million will go directly toward operating expenses for the state’s 15 transit authorities, $15 million is for an innovation grant program from the state Department of Transportation to support various initiatives, and $4 million is for the Community Transit Grant Program that supports options for the elderly and disabled, along with low-income individuals.

In addition to RTAs, other statewide transit agencies, councils on aging, municipalities, nonprofits and private for-profits are eligible to apply for the grant programs, according to MassDOT.

“These grants will be awarded competitively, and this grant money is not already a direct allocation to any specific RTA,” said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokesperson for MassDOT.

The $6 million awarded for operating expenses will be distributed among the transit authorities based on a formula where 60% is awarded according to the size of the ridership, 30% based on the population of the area served and 10% based on the geographic size of the transit authority’s area.

According to the latest data from the Federal Transit Administration, the PVTA ranks first in the state among all passengers served, with nearly 4 million passengers in the latest fiscal year. It also ranks first in the geographic size of its area, and ranks third for size of its population, behind the Worcester and Attleboro-Taunton transit authorities.

The FRTA, on the other hand, ranks last in terms of ridership and has one of the lowest population densities served.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Although additional funding and grants have been given to RTAs in previous years, such as $2.5 million awarded last December to offer free transit throughout the month, this marks the first time such grants have been included in a governor’s budget recommendation.

Advocates of improved quality for RTAs across the state, however, say the proposed funding and grants aren’t enough to meet the needs required for public transportation outside the greater Boston area. Rather, those additional funds should be rolled into the $96 million the state spends on operating costs in the state.

“It’s nice to receive the additional $25 million,” said Pete Wilson, a senior advisor at Transportation for Massachusetts, which pushes for greater public transport across the state. “But when you’re planning service on a yearly or six-month basis, it’s really difficult to plan around one-time grant funding.”

State Rep. Natalie Blais of Deerfield, who co-chairs the Regional Transit Authority caucus in the Legislature, called the extra funding a “good first step,” but said more was needed for operations such as weekend and evening expansion.

Blais has filed a bill in the Legislature that would set the minimum amount for regional transit funding at $150 million, the amount she says is recommended by the Massachusetts Association of Regional Transit Authorities to be able to meet those expansion goals.

“In our area, we need as much economic mobility as we can,” she said. “Without public transportation, we can’t get there.”

In addition to the RTA grants, the governor’s budget also includes $12.5 million for expansion of rail systems in western Massachusetts, with plans for rail projects in Palmer and Pittsfield. A public meeting that will be held by the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission on March 21 at the Northampton Senior Center will further discuss the issue.