Editorial: Calls for bus route improvements may be answered by PVTA

Last modified: Friday, April 25, 2014
People spoke and the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority listened. That’s what public hearings are for. And in the case of the airing of plans for revising Amherst bus routes, it played out as it should.

About 50 people attended the meeting at the Amherst Town Hall in mid-April to voice concerns, from objections to not including the Amherst Survival Center on a route to the difficulties handicapped people face, particularly when buses are crowded.

Officials took the comments to heart and Amherst Town Manager John Musante, who is president of the PVTA advisory board, said he was confident the Survival Center will get its stop when new routes are approved in May. They will go into effect in the fall.

Other requests, like a reconsideration of routes that bring area students to Holyoke Community College, Greenfield Community College and Springfield Technical Community College, will be in the mix, too, as Musante said he will request time calculations so he can better understand how long it takes riders to get to those destinations. Some speakers said bus trips to and from classes at those institutions can be two to three hours long.

The Know Your Neighbor Coalition, a new organization formed in Amherst to advocate for those living in poverty, was one of the groups that made a presentation.

It had about eight members there to add support to representatives of the Amherst Survival Center and other community members who want routes to be better tailored to the needs of permanent residents, particularly those with low incomes. Because students in the Five College area make up such a large bulk of the ridership, bus service falls off sharply during semester breaks and summers. That is a hardship for other community members who rely on bus service to get their groceries, prescriptions and other essentials.

Betsy McInnis, a core member of the coalition, said she was thrilled to see such a large number of people, representing a number of interests, including the elderly and the handicapped, show up to speak. “The PVTA people were so responsive,” she said, adding that she is confident pertinent issues will be resolved. She expected to meet with PVTA Director Mary MacInnes this week to continue discussions, including on restrictions on the number of bags riders can tote on board. Right now that is limited to four, which McInnis said is a hardship for those trying to carry home a week’s worth of groceries.

Another matter still to be worked out is how to pay this summer for the added loop to the Survival Center, which, if approved as Musante predicts, won’t go into effect until the end of August. The summer run will cost $7,600, McInnis said. A temporary route to the Survival Center, added in November at a cost of $12,000 shared by the town, the Survival Center and the University of Massachusetts, was to be discontinued May 9. Progress is being made and that’s a credit to the decision-makers willing to keep an open mind and to the advocates willing to push to get problems resolved.