PVTA considers cutting back on 20 routes amid budget woes

  • A PVTA bus makes a turn after a stop at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley. A budget shortfall has the regional transportation agency looking into cuts or elimination of as many as 20 routes later this summer. Gazette File photo

For The Recorder
Published: 6/14/2017 11:23:36 PM

A possible shortfall in the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s budget, triggered in part by anticipated flat or reduced state aid, is prompting the agency to consider cutting back service on nearly 20 routes later this summer.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who serves as chairman of the PVTA Advisory Board, said Wednesday that even though a projected $1.2 million deficit is not yet certain, officials are beginning a process that includes a series of public hearings to get feedback on changes to or elimination of routes considered to be underperforming or redundant.

“For PVTA’s purposes, we have to be prudent and budget using what we think is the most likely number at this point,” Narkewicz said.

Current projections show that PVTA will have a $47 million budget in fiscal 2018, the same as the current year, during which it receives $23.55 million in state support from an $82 million line item for regional transit authorities, or RTA’s. That line item is proposed to be just $80 million by Gov. Charlie Baker, but both the House and Senate are seeking higher amounts, Narkewicz said.

Narkewicz said PVTA needs to have a $48.2 million budget in fiscal 2018 to maintain all services, based on cost increases related to fuel, health insurance and wages. It’s uncertain if the state will be able to make up this $1.2 million deficit with its RTA appropriation.

Reductions, he said, could “make up for whatever the deficit is.”

In Hampshire and Franklin counties, the hearings begin June 21 in Amherst at the Bangs Community Center, 70 Boltwood Walk, and continue June 27 in South Hadley at the South Hadley Public Library, 2 Canal St., June 29 in Northampton at City Council Chambers, 212 Main St., and in Sunderland July 5 at the Sunderland Public Library, 20 School St. One-hour sessions those days begin at both 4 and 6 p.m.

Among the routes that could change are the M40 Minuteman Express, which runs between Northampton and Amherst; the Five College Route 39, which brings passengers between Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges; the X98 Crosstown in Northampton; the Route 46 running from Whately, South Deerfield and Sunderland to the University of Massachusetts campus; the Route R29 from Holyoke and South Hadley to the UMass campus; and the UMass-Amherst Campus Shuttle Routes 34 and 35.

Amherst Selectboard Chairman Douglas Slaughter said those routes, as well as others, are candidates for elimination or restructuring because they aren’t carrying enough passengers or have service covered by other routes.

No decisions will be made until the feedback is received.

“At this point in time all options are on the table,” Slaughter said. “No specific changes have been delineated nor has their been any discussion of a prioritization strategy relative to any proposed changes.”

Narkewicz said PVTA needs 30 to 60 days of lead time to change routes.

Still, the preference is to avoid any cutbacks, and PVTA is looking at other sources for funding, such as a federal grant that could be used to purchase electric buses.

“PVTA’s goal and mission is to expand transit service to people,” Narkewicz said. “This is not a position PVTA relishes or wants to be in.”

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