PVTA fare hikes now in effect

  • A passenger uses a Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus July 9, 2017, in front of Pulaski Park in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, July 05, 2018

Senior citizens who use the paratransit service provided by Pioneer Valley Transit Authority now face sizable jumps in the fares they pay to ride vans.

The 20 percent increase, which kicked in Sunday, is part of a comprehensive series of fare hikes across the board for PVTA, including for its buses, the first adjustments in a decade.

Amherst Senior Center Director Nancy Pagano said the increase is a concern for many on fixed incomes and who depend on the vans as their only means of transportation to medical appointments and for shopping trips.

“It’s going to have a big impact,” Pagano said.

The prices are going from $2.50 to $3 for a one-way trip, while the price for a pack of 20 tickets is rising from $47.50 to $57.

Amherst’s transportation fund has subsidized reduced costs, to $2 for a one-way trip and $40 for a 20-pack of tickets. That subsidy will continue to be available and lower the cost to residents, but prices will still rise for van service.

Unlike in Amherst, seniors in Northampton won’t be affected by the van service changes. Instead, seniors can get van rides through the continued pilot service established with PVTA that includes its own dispatching, Narkewicz said.

Pagano said Amherst seniors have been notified that they will have to pay 50 cents more for each ride. Even if they already have tickets in hand, riders will be responsible for providing the difference for the new charge.

“I know this will affect some people a lot,” Pagano said.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, chairman of the PVTA Advisory Board, said the increases were necessary to resolve a projected $2.9 million budget shortfall and were a commitment to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as part of its financial oversight.

The price hikes are projected to raise $500,000 annually, according to Narkewicz. But fare increases are not a preferred course of action because of how they affect ridership.

“We’re hesitant to raise fares because we know it impacts people, working people and low-income people,” Narkewicz said.

The changes for buses mean adult fares will rise from $1.25 to $1.50, a 31-day pass will increase from $45 to $54 and a 31-day elderly and disabled pass will go from $22 to $26.

The $2.9 million deficit in next fiscal year’s $51.87 million budget is caused by factors that include inflation, rising costs, such as health care, and a decline in ridership, along with insufficient money from the state budget.

Narkewicz said officials are still waiting to learn about the amount that will be appropriated for regional transit authorities in the reconciled version of the House and Senate budgets. “We’re obviously hoping for the highest amount,” Narkewicz said.

Meantime, PVTA is moving away from having Hulmes Transportation in Belchertown operate the fleet of vans. Instead, this subcontract will be handled by National Express in Springfield as the new fiscal year begins.

Narkewicz said National Express bid on the contract and operates vans elsewhere in the state.

“They’re confident it will be a seamless transition, similar to a school bus contract,” Narkewicz said.

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