Wednesday, June 27, 2012 • 6:14 AM Comments ()

Bus-Fare Showdown

posted by Maureen Turner

Oops—yesterday, I wrote about a couple of important events happening in the city today, but I forgot about a big one.

Today at noon, the PVTA’s advisory board will vote on much-controversial proposed fare increases. The proposed hikes, announced earlier this year, would be used to plug a $1.8 million in the transit authority’s budget. Opponents plan to be at the meeting, scheduled for noon at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission offices at 60 Congress St.

The plan would raise the basic adult fare from $1.25 to $1.50, with transfers increasing from 25 cents to $1. (Passengers who buy a new electronic-payment “SmartCard” would continue to pay the $1.25 rate during a promotional period.)

Monthly passes would increase from $45 to $52. Fares for elderly and disabled passengers would increase from 60 cents to 75 cents. And, in the biggest increase, paratransit van riders whose stops are more than three-quarters of a mile outside a bus route, who now pay $2.50 to $3.50, would pay $7.

The proposal has met with resistance from multiple groups, including Mass. Senior Action, the Stavros Center for Independent Living, the Alliance to Develop Power, Western Mass. Jobs With Justice and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 448, which represents PVTA drivers.

A number of groups gave formed a coalition, United for Transit Equity, which is calling on the PVTA advisory board to reject the proposed increases. “On behalf of bus riders, people who would like to ride the buses, and seniors and the disabled who are dependent on the para-transit service for essential travel, UTE objects to paying for the PVTA's debt … at the expense of the neediest and poorest people in the Pioneer Valley,” the alliance says.

The state Senate and House recently approved bills that would bail out for the MBTA, which was also threatening fare increases as well as service cuts to address its own deficit, which is a whopping $53 million. The Boston-area authority will receive $49 million in funds generated by auto inspection sticker fees. And, as a thin concession to those parts of the state that don’t use the MBTA, legislators also voted to send about $3.5 million, combined, to transit authorities elsewhere in the state, including the PVTA. That money, United for Transit Equity, contends, could be used to plug the PVTA’s budget gap, eliminating to need to raise fares. A conference committee will now work on a final version of the bill. Click here for a report by WAMC's Paul Tuthill.

At least one major player on the PVTA advisory board is on the side of fare-increase opponents. Mayor Domenic Sarno announced in a press release yesterday that Springfield’s representative to the board, mayoral aide Tom Walsh, will vote against the plan.

According to the release, board members recently were notified by Mary MacInnes, the PVTA’s administrator, that the authority’s fiscal 2013 budget is, in fact, balanced, thanks to additional state funding.

“I was concerned about the proposed fare increases because of the impact it would have on many Springfield residents who utilize the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority as their sole means of transportation,” Sarno said in the release. “Based on the information indicating the Transit Authority’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget is balanced I cannot in good conscience currently support the proposed fare increases.”

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