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Bus service added in Amherst for people using Survival Center

The Amherst Survival Center.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

The Amherst Survival Center. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — Since the Amherst Survival Center opened at 138 Sunderland Road in December, public transportation to the site has been limited to a once-a-week taxi cab from the nearest bus stop about half a mile away.

That will change Friday, when UMass Transit adjusts Route 32 to make 10 daily stops at the center, where lunch is served four times a week, dinner is offered on Thursdays, and groceries, clothing and health clinics are available.

“With winter coming, we needed to consider a variety of transportation options beyond the weekly taxi service we’ve offered participants for the past eight months,” said executive director Mindy Domb.

The Survival Center will cover most of the $12,000 cost.

Town Manager John Musante, who serves as chairman of the PVTA Advisory Committee, is pledging $3,250 from the town’s Transportation Fund.

Musante said he has been working with the Survival Center and UMass Transit to explore transportation alternatives to get people to the site without a large commitment of municipal money.

The hope is that a sponsor will come forward to cover the remainder of the cost, Domb said.

Domb said the new schedule for the “Puffer’s Pond/ Atkins Corner” route is the culmination of discussions between Amherst Survival Center staff and UMass Transit officials.

As colder weather approached, Domb said officials pressed UMass Transit to act on a need that has been evident since the center moved to its new building nearly a year ago. “It’s amazing UMass could do this so quickly,” Domb said.

“We feel very good about providing this service,” said Jeri Baker, director of transportation services at UMass Transit.

When the center was in an old schoolhouse at 1200 North Pleasant St., it was right next to a bus stop, where people using the center were dropped off at the doorstep. But when the Survival Center moved from its long-time site, many without their own vehicles had to walk the nearly half mile from the bus stop, using a sidewalk along Sunderland Road. The sidewalk was improved using $51,000 in state Chapter 90 highway money.

As an interim solution, the center worked with a private taxi service one day a week to provide rides between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. But that did not satisfy concerns expressed by clients and volunteers.

A petition article was presented to the annual Town Meeting in June seeking $30,000 from the town to cover the cost of adjusting a different route by adding a spur to the Survival Center and installing a bus stop in front of the building. It was defeated by voice vote.

Baker said UMass Transit did an assessment of the cost of adding new loops to Route 32 instead. This route is considered an outreach route, meaning it is funded by the town of Amherst. Baker deferred questions about the cost to the Survival Center.

Domb said the cost is being paid by the Survival Center because of the benefits from 10 daily stops, including four that are part of a new express service.

These express stops will be made at 9:48 a.m., 10:23 a.m., 1:48 p.m. and 2:23 p.m. The first bus on Route 32 each day will arrive at 7:23 a.m. and the last at 6:20 p.m.

The route extends from the UMass Studio Arts Building on North Pleasant Street north to Cushman village center and the Survival Center, then heads south to the Eric Carle Museum at Hampshire College, the South Amherst Common and ends at the post office at North Pleasant Street and Kellogg Avenue.

The route will remain through May 9, at which time it will be reevaluated by UMass Transit and the Survival Center to determine whether it should be an ongoing loop or only a seasonal route.

Musante said this is “very much a trial period and ridership data will be collected and evaluated to decide what to do in the future.”

One option, he is looking into with PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes is the possible donation of a PVTA surplus van to assist with transportation needs at the Survival Center.

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