PVTA bus fares to rise by 20 percent in June; route adjustements coming in fall

  • Students and Sunderland residents get ready to board the Route 31 bus Feb. 8. Due to a $3.1 million operating budget deficit, the PVTA Advisory Board has proposed decreasing how frequently the bus arrives, along with increased fares and reductions in service across western Massachusetts.  Recorder file photo

Staff Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will increase fares by 20 percent in June and its routes will be adjusted in September as the agency confronts a possible $3.1 million funding shortfall.

The PVTA Advisory Board on Monday voted by a large margin in favor of the changes as required in the preliminary budget process.

“In the overall picture, a pretty strong majority felt it was the responsible thing to do,” said the board’s chairman, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz.

The board, which represents the 24 communities served, acted on the adjustments because the $80.4 million included in Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed budget for state contract assistance for regional transit authorities falls short of the $88 million necessary to maintain current services for regional transit authorities statewide.

Narkewicz said it’s possible the plan could be amended in late May, depending on whether the House and Senate approve more money for the PVTA and other regional transit authorities.

The $3.1 million deficit 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. PVTA is dependent on the state for nearly half its budget. The proposed budget for the coming year is $51.87 million, $4.5 million, or 9.6 percent, more than the current year’s budget of $47.3 million.

The authority received $22.9 million in state funds for this year’s operations, which was $600,000 less than the previous year. PVTA also gets revenue from assessments to the cities and towns, Five Colleges Inc. and the University of Massachusetts.

The 20 percent adjustment will 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 rise from $22 to $26.

“We opted to vote for a 20 percent increase, which works out to be a quarter, 25 cents,” Narkewicz said.

The board anticipates this will generate an additional $500,000.

This marks the first fare adjustment since 2008, though the board also adopted a policy to do a review of the fare system every three years, with the next review scheduled for 2021.

Other changes aimed at closing the budget gap include modifications to routes. PVTA had earlier proposed reducing bus service by up to 16 percent, affecting 43 routes and eliminating 1.1 million passenger trips a year.

Following public comment at a series of meetings throughout the region, some of these planned cutbacks were modified, though PVTA still aims to end service earlier on “non-academic” reduced-service days, limit the frequency of evening service and use a Sunday service schedule on all holidays.

“Our overarching goal was to maintain as much service in as many communities as possible,” Narkewicz said.

For example, under the original plan, the X98 route, also known as Crosstown Northampton, was to be eliminated. Under the final proposal, the route will remain in place when the Northampton Survival Center’s food pantry is open.

Originally, Route 30 in Amherst and Route 31 in Amherst and Sunderland would both see Sunday service eliminated entirely during “non-academic” reduced-service periods. This instead was changed to have six trips a day on Sundays, at 60- to 120-minute intervals.

And while the original plan was to eliminate Route 46 between Amherst, Sunderland and South Deerfield, the modified plan preserves one trip in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Narkewiz said route reductions are prioritized and if more money is available these services could be refined.

Severe cuts to service were also proposed last year. In the end, PVTA eliminated four of its 63 bus routes and cut back on service to nine more, including Route 46 running from Whately, South Deerfield and Sunderland to UMass and the M40 that ran express service between Northampton and UMass.

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