Public transportation enhances the mobility of all people in a community and provides access to critical services, employment, recreation, and entertainment. Despite the emergence of popular new forms of transportation—including rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft, and electric bike and scooter shares—public transit will continue to be a critical service long into the future. As Camille Barchers, assistant professor of regional planning in the UMass Amherst Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, put it, "We see public transportation as a cornerstone of equitable and resilient communities."
However, Barchers noted, public transit agencies are facing declining ridership and decreased revenue, while the Pioneer Valley—a largely rural region with multiple urban centers—is grappling with particular challenges in providing efficient and equitable transit.
For Amherst and more than 20 surrounding communities, public transit is overseen by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), the largest transit authority in the Commonwealth, with more than 300 buses and vans. Like other transit agencies across the country, it is continually confronting trade-offs between providing faster service, lowering the cost of service, expanding service to more areas, and upgrading its fleet to electric vehicle technology.
A Research Partnership to Benefit the Pioneer Valley
In 2020, the PVTA was awarded funding from the Federal Transit Authority’s Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) program to support a comprehensive assessment and strategic planning of routes, services, and facilities. The project aims to inform the design of a sustainable transit system to support economic vitality across the Pioneer Valley into the future.
UMass Amherst’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering are partners on the project. Since summer 2021, PI Barchers and her graduate students have been working with the PVTA on a major component of the project known as Valley on Board (VoB). VoB aims to develop a route redesign that will serve the PVTA and the Pioneer Valley for at least 20 years into the future while achieving goals such as increased ridership, improved efficiency, and enhanced accessibility and equity of the system.
To start, Barchers’ fall 2021 studio focused on scenario planning—imagining a set of plausible realities given forces such as climate change, politics, migration, and others on the Pioneer Valley over the next two decades. Then, students in Barchers’ fall 2022 studio carried out a public engagement strategy to learn how to improve the transit system for current riders while also designing a system that works across the set of scenarios expected in the future. Separately, Barchers, co-PI Jimi Oke in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and graduate student research assistants have contributed research to this effort.
To read more about student research, read the full article here: https://www.umass.edu/gateway/article/moving-valley-forward