The following letter was sent to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Advisory Board on March 16 by Andrew P. Mangels, vice chancellor for Administration and Finance, in response to proposed service reductions that would take effect this year.
To the members of the PVTA Advisory Board:
On behalf of the Chancellor, I am writing to submit University of Massachusetts Amherst comments on the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) proposed service reductions for 2018. We are proud to have worked with the PVTA for more than forty years to provide a low-cost, environmentally responsible transportation system for the UMass Amherst campus community, the Five College Consortium, and much of the Pioneer Valley. Further, public transportation is critical in creating over $2 billion of economic activity generated by the University by bringing our faculty, staff and students to our campuses, downtown areas and shopping malls.
In each of the past two years, UMass Transit buses carried more than 3.5 million passengers, nearly a third of the entire PVTA ridership, with a fleet that constitutes less than 19 percent of the PVTA fleet total. The routes operated by UMass Transit ensure student safety, reduce environmental impacts, mitigate traffic congestion in surrounding communities, support economic growth, and operate at a lower cost than any comparable service provided elsewhere within the PVTA region.
The University is aware of the budget limitations facing many Massachusetts communities and institutions, including the PVTA. As the public flagship university, we are also experiencing budget reductions due to insufficient state funding of mandated collectively bargained raises. In addition, as an operator for the PVTA, UMASS Transit has a current $400,000 operational deficit due to level funding from the PVTA. The University has also seen its assessments increase from the Five Colleges and from the towns we service by more than 50 percent since fiscal year 2014. In that same period, the labor expense for our student drivers has increased by more than 30 percent to keep pace with minimum wage increases. These cost pressures are making it increasingly difficult to provide the high quality service expected from UMASS Transit.
For these reasons, UMass must insist that cuts to the following routes be avoided:
- Routes 30 and 31 are the busiest bus routes in the PVTA system, carrying over 2 million passengers annually in each of the last two years. On Saturday nights, these two routes provide safe rides home for thousands of UMass students. Eliminating late Saturday night trips would, in all likelihood, result in more students choosing to drive late at night potentially endangering both their lives and those of other residents of the Amherst/UMass community.
- Campus shuttle Route 34 services newly built student housing at Olympia Place and provides safe, convenient shuttle service from the outlying parking lots of the University for everyone required to park in those lots. Eliminating evening service on Route 34 creates a safety hazard for students who would then need to wait longer and ride for longer trips on Route 35 for a safe ride home from the parking lots and buildings on campus after dark.
- Route 38 is a crucial link for students traveling to/from UMass, Amherst College, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke College. Ending service on academic Saturdays at 12:45 a.m., and reducing frequencies by half throughout Saturday night, will result in overloads and create hardship for those students who use the Route 38 bus for social events between the colleges.
- Route 39 provides essential opportunities for students, faculty and staff from Mount Holyoke College, Hampshire College and Smith College to conveniently travel between those institutions taking classes and participating in activities that would otherwise be difficult to reach.
- The express trip at 8:15 a.m. on the B43 is heavily used by students, faculty and staff who ride to UMass from Northampton each weekday. As with the 38 and 39, the late night service on the B43 each Saturday during the academic year is also crucial to access social events, shopping and movie theaters at the Hampshire Mall and to travel to/from Amherst, UMass and Northampton.
- Service on Route 46 to/from UMass and South Deerfield must continue. While the Route 46 bus from South Deerfield to UMass may include areas of the Franklin County Regional Transit Authorities’ jurisdiction, this is an essential service for a significant contingent of riders who work and study at the University. This bus route also services the Whately Park & Ride lot, allowing students, faculty and staff from the hill towns to the west of the region an opportunity to access the UMass Amherst campus in an efficient and timely manner. There is a significant group of UMass riders on this route who rely on this service. Additionally, this bus route serves to pick up those passengers who cannot fit onto the Route 30 and 31 buses as they fill and become overloaded along North Pleasant Street in North Amherst each weekday morning before classes begin.
Please know that year-round service is critical to the success of the University as we continue to increase summer activities on campus and attract faculty, staff and graduate students who live in our communities year-round.
UMass Amherst remains committed to the partnership that has endured with PVTA over many decades to provide reliable, cost-efficient transportation services, and we will continue to work with the PVTA to advocate on behalf of our ridership and our community.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions.