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Editorial: PVTA route changes roll out new options for Valley residents

JASON PICARD
A PVTA bus in Northampton in 2014.

JASON PICARD A PVTA bus in Northampton in 2014. Purchase photo reprints »

While the coming high-speed passenger rail service is grabbing headlines these days, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is making its own push to get more Valley residents out of their vehicles and onto its growing fleet of buses.

The PVTA this month unveiled what it describes as extensive service improvements designed to provide faster, more efficient and cost-effective service to riders, according to John Musante, Amherst’s town manager and chairman of the PVTA Advisory Board.

Seven new bus routes are in store, including crosstown routes in Northampton and Springfield and new and more frequent service within and between Amherst, Northampton and Holyoke. Other features in the works include a new Smart Card payment system so riders do not have to pay with cash and message boards at major stops with real-time information about bus arrivals and departures.

For the past six years, the PVTA, which is the state’s largest regional transit authority, has increased ridership. The goal of the new services and routes is to continue that trend, according to its administrator, Mary L. MacInnes. The transit authority recorded 11.5 million rides on its buses last year. The changes are slated to start Aug. 24 in the Northampton and Springfield areas and on Sept. 2 in the Amherst area.

As the new routes and services take effect, we encourage all Valley residents, whether they are current PVTA riders or not, to take a close look at what the transit authority has to offer with an eye towards using public transportation more.

The benefits are many. For those who may not necessarily need to drive, a single $2.50 round-trip fare between Amherst and the Holyoke Mall costs less than a gallon of gas. That one PVTA trip is already a money saver given that the distance covered is approximately 40 miles. The PVTA’s new R29 Route between Amherst and Holyoke is designed to provide education and employment opportunities for Holyoke residents and shopping opportunities for college students at the mall.

More local routes, like the new X98 trip in Northampton, will connect various locations within that city, like the senior center, Northampton Survival Center, YMCA, River Valley Market on North King Street and the Hampshire Plaza, where Big Y Supermarket and Wal-Mart are located, among other businesses. Another new weekday bus route in Amherst called G36 will run in a similar fashion hitting important locations within that town, including the senior center and the Amherst Survival Center to name a few.

As the PVTA rolls out the new routes, it is also shelving some existing ones, including two in Amherst where stops would become part of the new service.

In all, there will be more hours of service on 14 routes, mostly on weekends, and 15 routes with improved frequencies.

The new service changes appear to be the product of a thorough vetting of Valley residents’ commuting needs by the PVTA. The transit authority, based in Springfield, spent nearly two years studying its transit system and relied on a yearlong comprehensive service analysis by an outside consulting firm.

The public also had ample opportunity to voice its concerns on the PVTA’s new transit plans. Based on feedback from local officials, many of those concerns appear to have been incorporated in the service changes.

Fueling the expansion of services are $4.2 million in state contract assistance and $6 million for additional buses from the Federal Transit Administration and Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

That’s a significant investment of public dollars for a regional transit agency that has clamored for more resources during the past decade. We trust that the PVTA has done its homework and has put together the most efficient and cost-effective services it can muster.

Now that the pieces are in place for the PVTA to better serve the Valley’s transportation needs, it’s up to riders to take advantage of them.

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