PVTA board softens some of its cutting

  • Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Administrator Sandra Sheehan and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz talk during a special meeting of the PVTA Advisory Board in Springfield on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Daily Hampshire Gazette/Kevin Gutting

  • Josh Rickman, Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Manager of Operations and Planning, prepares to detail the proposed service changes for fiscal year 2018 to a special meeting of the PVTA Advisory Board in Springfield on Wednesday. Rickman compared a list of proposed service changes previously approved for public hearing with a revised list of proposed service changes based on public comment. In foreground are board members Patrick Burke, left, rider representative, and Richard Theroux of Agawam. Daily Hampshire Gazette/Kevin Gutting

For The Recorder
Published: 7/20/2017 4:32:43 PM

SPRINGFIELD — After weeks of rising alarm over its proposed route cuts, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority advisory board on Wednesday adopted a revised plan to eliminate four of its 63 bus routes and reduce service to nine more.

Spared the ax were some of the routes serving the five colleges, the proposed elimination of which had generated outcry from students, staff and officials.

Representatives from Mount Holyoke College and Five Colleges Inc. expressed appreciation for the board’s revisions and called for continued conversations between the PVTA and the colleges.

“The Five College routes are key to our academic mission,” said Kevin McCaffrey, director of government and community relations at Mount Holyoke.

The PVTA faced a $1.4 million deficit going into the 2018 fiscal year based on a combination of rising costs, low fare revenue and a decrease in state funding. Reducing bus service, the authority said, was the only way to balance the budget.

Four routes were completely eliminated: the M40 that ran express service between Northampton and the University of Massachusetts, the Tiger Trolley that served South Hadley, the R14E that took riders from Springfield to Agawam Regional Industrial Park and Heritage Nursing Home, and the R27 that ran from Springfield to the Eastfield mall. Some portions of the routes will now be served by other buses.

An additional nine routes suffered a reduction in service. Route 46 running from Whately, South Deerfield and Sunderland to UMass, will now run four trips per weekday, the X98 crosstown Northampton route will now operate three daily trips to the Northampton Survival Center, and the R29 UMass to Holyoke and B48 from Northampton to Holyoke routes will operate reduced Saturday and Sunday service.

Nineteen representatives from member communities, including the mayors of Northampton and Springfield, convened at noon to hear public comments and vote on the route changes suggested Tuesday by the PVTA’s route committee. The vote to approve service changes was nearly unanimous, with one abstention and one vote against.

Before the vote, many committee members expressed their disappointment and frustration at having to make service cuts.

“Nobody wants to make these cuts,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. But, he added, it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to not have a balanced budget.

The service reductions lowered the deficit by $858,287. Another $100,000 will be taken out of the PVTA’s insurance reserve. PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan is also requesting that a further $432,305 be taken out of the transit authority’s restricted reserve.

To do so, she needs the permission of the state’s transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack.

The only vote against the plan came from the designated rider representative on the board, Patrick Burke. He spoke out against the cuts in the meeting, noting that the lives of working people, people with disabilities and others who rely on the bus to get from place to place, would be “deeply unsettled.”

In advance of the board meeting, many community members had expressed concerns over the proposed elimination of the M40 and the 39 which connects Hampshire, Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges.

As a result of the deluge of support for those routes, the PVTA revised its recommendations to retain all the service on the 39. The M40 route will be eliminated but the local B43 bus will make four express trips in the morning and evening to mitigate the loss of service.

The PVTA said it received over 1,500 public comments after presenting its original proposal to reduce service. On Wednesday, community members came to protest the cuts and voice their opinions before the board made its final decision.

Many riders spoke in opposition to the cuts, saying they would disproportionately impact people of color and those who could not afford a car.

“There’s a whole room of people who don’t ride the bus,” said Springfield resident ShaeShae Quest of the advisory board. “It doesn’t feel good … It’s always like the dollars are more important than the people.”


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