Riders of the largest public transit system in western Massachusetts no longer have a possible fare hike looming. But, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will need more revenue next year to avoid a budget deficit and possible service cuts. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
A fare increase that would have raised the cost for a single bus ride by 25 cents and hiked charges for transfers and multi-ride passes as well as paratransit services for the disabled was rejected Wednesday by a weighted vote of the governing board of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority. The increases, which would have taken effect a year from now, were opposed by the representatives from the largest cities served by the PVTA, including Springfield and Holyoke.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said it was premature to approve a fare increase today that won’t take effect for 12 months.
The PVTA administration had originally proposed the fare hikes to take effect this coming July 1st. But the need for additional fare box revenue to balance the PVTA”s budget was negated by additional funds from the state. The legislature last week approved a $51 million dollar bailout for the state’s transit authorities. The largest share of the funding went to greater Boston’s MBTA. The PVTA is to receive just under $1 million
But because this is one time funding from the state, PVTA Administrator Mary McInnes recommended implementing the pending fare hike in July 2013.
Amherst Town Manager John Musante, who chairs the PVTA Advisory Board, said rejecting the fare hike means the PVTA will have to find the money to close a projected $1.4 million gap in next year’s budget.
A coalition of groups representing the elderly, the disabled and the poor organized to oppose the fare hikes. More than 300 people attended a series of public hearings last Spring and dozens attended Wednesday’s meeting of the PVTA advisory board.
Natalie Tovet of West Springfield, who is disabled and in wheelchair called the proposed fare hikes ridiculous.
John Bennett, chapter president of the Massachusetts Senior Action council offered to work with PVTA officials to secure more transportation funding from the state.
There’s general consensus the Massachusetts transportation system is a financial mess. Governor Deval Patrick has said he’ll file legislation with a comprehensive long term fix , next year.