Operators of the largest public transit system in western Massachusetts are not planning to hike fares or cut service to close a projected budget gap. The expectation is that there will be more state funding for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and the rest of the state’s regional transit systems.
The PVTA Advisory Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a draft budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1st. The $39.7 million spending plan includes a so-called “placeholder” of $1.6 million, which PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes expects will be filled in the final budget by funds from the state and not by higher fares for riders.
The last fare hike on the PVTA was in 2008. A proposed fare hike a year ago was greeted with an outcry of opposition at public hearings. The PVTA advisory board voted down the fare hike, but only after the state legislature came through with a one-time financial bailout.
MacInnes said ridership on the PVTA has been increasing, but the authority is facing higher costs for fuel and labor.
Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a long range fix to the state’s chronic transportation finance woes. The 10- year plan the governor unveiled earlier this year calls for spending an additional $1 billion a year on transportation. Funding for regional transit authority operations would be based on ridership. State funding for the PVTA would go from $17 million to $50 million annually.
Democratic House Speaker Robert Deleo has said he’ll come up with his own transportation plan in early April that will be less expensive than what the governor proposes. Still, John Musante, the Amherst Town Administrator, who is chairman of the PVTA Advisory Board, believes the state will increase funding to regional transit systems and not settle for a one- time quick fix.
Advocates for public transit users have been lobbying legislators to take action to avoid fare hikes and service cutbacks. Linda Stone is an organizer for the Massachusetts Senior Action Council.
To fund the transportation plan and provide more state funding for education, Governor Patrick has proposed a dramatic overhaul of the state’s tax system that would result in a $2 billion tax hike. Patrick’s plan would raise the income tax rate while lowering the sales tax and thus shifting more of the tax burden to higher wage earners.