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PVTA separates paratransit, senior services



@cmlindahl
Tuesday, April 05, 2016

SPRINGFIELD – The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority advisory board voted March 30 to approve a pilot program expanding its senior dial-a-ride services to Saturdays, and to separate it from paratransit vans to avoid the need for cuts that had raised concerns.

The PVTA currently provides seniors in 32 communities with door-to-door rides on its paratransit vans. People with disabilities and seniors are currently picked up by the same vans.

The authority is required under federal law to operated handicapped transportation services, but is not required to provide the senior service. As part of the federal requirements, the PVTA must meet certain on-time goals for its paratransit service.

Because it had not been meeting that goal, transit officials studied ways to deal with the burden that an increasing number of senior trips has had on the paratransit system, according to PVTA Administrator Mary McInnes.

Among the options considered by the PVTA’s paratransit committee was a reduction in hours of operation for the senior service. That possibility led seniors to sound off  during meetings of that committee earlier this year.

But those concerns proved to be unfounded after the committee on Wednesday presented its recommendation to the PVTA’s main advisory board.

Separate fleets

The senior transit and paratransit services will be split into two separate fleets so senior trips will not be a burden on the paratransit vans, McInnes said.

“They won’t see any change in their service,” she said. “We’re still going to operate the same amount of service, the same days per week.”

McInnes said she expects the two-fleet scheme to go into effect “fairly soon,” but could not provide a specific date.

Patti Williams, the Greater Springfield organizer for the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, was one of those who urged the paratransit committee not to recommend cutting services.

The council focuses on public policy and community issues that affect seniors. Williams said the local chapter has 150 members.

Williams said she is pleased with the PVTA’s plan.

“They did a lot of work and came up with a proposal that we’re actually quite pleased with,” said Williams, 63, of Greenfield. “We were very concerned and very vocal about the whole idea if they were to cut services.”

Williams said the effects of reduced transit service for seniors would have been “devastating” for those who do not drive.

“If people can’t get around they tend to be isolated,” she said. “We want our senior community to be healthy and vibrant – that’s very important. Transportation is a critical part of that.”

Other action

The PVTA board on March 30 also approved two pilot programs for the senior transit service.

One will expand the service to Saturdays. Currently there is no service offered that day.

The second will provide vehicles and monetary assistance for four local councils on aging so they can operate the senior transit service locally.

“The benefit to us is that they can operate that kind of service very muchless expensively than we currently do,” McInnes said. 

And Williams said that’s a win for seniors, too.

She said her understanding is that the communities chosen will be smaller ones outside of Springfield.

McInnes said the board approved only the concepts of those two pilot programs and now PVTA officials will have to work out the details. “That will probably take several months,” she said.

Though Williams counts the battle fought by her and others as a win, she warned, “This will come up again at some point on some level and we’re going to have to maintain vigilance.

“A lot of people think seniors, they’re quiet,” she added. “That’s not the case – not with this organization it isn't.”

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.