Five Colleges pledges to increase its PVTA funding

  • Students and Sunderland residents get ready to board the Route 31 bus on Feb. 8. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2018 11:09:25 PM

AMHERST — An annual boost in the contribution to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority from the Five Colleges Consortium is aimed at preventing future funding gaps in the agency’s operating budget, which has led to service cuts and fare increases over the past two years.

Five Colleges is pledging to increase from $500,000 to $750,000 its annual contribution to PVTA’s nearly $50.8 million budget by adding $50,000 a year over the next four years, a phased-in approach that began with an additional $50,000 this year.

“PVTA is very appreciative of the collaboration with Five Colleges, one of the largest users,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, chairman of the PVTA Advisory Board.

With two successive years of budget gaps, caused in part by rising costs such as health care and a decline in ridership, along with insufficient money from the state, Narkewicz said PVTA got significant feedback from area college students and professors about the harm the cuts were was causing.

“As part of PVTA’s looking at all possible options, we began discussions with the Five College Consortium about providing additional funding,” Narkewicz said.

Kevin Kennedy, a spokesman for Five Colleges, said when the campuses became aware of the gap in 2017, the consortium developed a schedule for increasing payments that would provide greater support to PVTA, without creating an undo burden on the campuses.

“We recognized, given the difficulty with the budgets at the statewide levels, exacerbated by PVTA not collecting fares from students, we wanted to do our part to continue the service,” Kennedy said.

Since 1979, the consortium has agreed to pay PVTA what is determined to be the municipal portion of the cost of bus routes that include its campuses, including the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College in Amherst, Smith College in Northampton and Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley.

The concept is that by picking up this cost, students enrolled at the colleges don’t have to pay fares and thus are more likely to use the buses for public transportation.

PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan said in a statement that the Five Colleges’ new funding allows service cuts to be minimized.

“Increasing costs of service and level funding make it impossible for PVTA to maintain the service we currently provide,” Sheehan said. “This agreement exhibits a true partnership of helping maintain a crucial service in a critical time.”

PVTA increased fares by 20 percent in June, and adjusted routes beginning in September, with Narkewicz pegging the cuts at between $700,000 and $750,000, significantly less than initially anticipated.

Sarah Pfatteicher, executive director of the Five College Consortium, said PVTA service is essential for students.

“We’re pleased we were able to develop an agreement that has our campuses paying a more equitable share of the cost of public transportation in the Valley,” Pfatteicher said.

Though regional transit authorities across the state have not been well enough supported by the federal and state subsidies, Narkewicz said that the RTA Taskforce will look at the funding formula and make recommendations to state officials in advance of the next budget.

“I’m hopeful the Legislature and governor can work with RTAs to get to a place where we have a sustainable budget,” Narkewicz said.

The Five Colleges payment is made up of money from the budgets of the colleges and the university for the cost of weekday, academic schedules for the PVTA buses, while the money for the evening and weekend routes comes from student activity fees.

“The work we’re doing with PVTA and the towns is a good example of how we can have a town-gown relationship that is very positive,” Kennedy said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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