Push to save PVTA from cuts ramps up

Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Advocates for increasing funding for the Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority and the other 14 regional transit authorities in the state are ramping up efforts to stave off service cuts and fare hikes through advertisements that will begin appearing on PVTA buses in the region.

Transportation for Massachusetts this week began a campaign in the Pioneer Valley, as well as Worcester, that will include advertising cards on PVTA and Worcester Regional Transit Authority vehicles, as well as radio spots on WRNX and WAQY, that will elaborate on how changes in service will damage regional economies.

“If we want our communities to work and our businesses to work, then we need our bus service to work,” Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts, said in a phone interview March 21. “People outside of Boston deserve good transit.”

Dempsey added that regional transit authorities are critical resources for local economies.

“Ensuring RTAs are adequately funded is not only an economic matter, it’s also about quality of life,” Dempsey said. “For many people, this is their sole means of transportation.”

PVTA has been holding hearings as the $80.4 million included in Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed budget for state contract assistance, which is level funded, is well short of the $88 million needed to maintain current service. This means likely cuts to routes and possible fare increases.

The campaign also includes trying to collect signatures for a petition that will be sent to legislators. Dempsey said the petition and letters to legislators and the governor’s office can be effective as the budget is developed.

“It’s something we need to keep pushing on. We’re not in an easy budget,” Dempsey said.

So far, Dempsey said there is support in the Legislature, noting that Senate President Harriette Chandler spoke at a rally in front of Worcester City Hall this week advocating for proper funding, and that state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthingon, is the vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

“We’re very encouraged by some of the leadership we see for more funding for the RTAs,” Dempsey said.

Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Tim Brennan said in a statement that the 13 million riders of PVTA show its value to the region.

“Funding cuts that force service reductions will put tremendous strain on residents, employers, and businesses that depend on reliable transit options,” Brennan said. “People need to understand cuts affect everyone.”

The campaign will run through May, as the House and Senate unveil budgets. A petition by Transportation for Massachusetts is available at www.t4ma.org/bus.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.