Beginning this week, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) has initiated a public information campaign to make the public aware of extensive service improvements that will start on August 24, 2014 in the Springfield and Northampton areas and on September 2, 2014 in the Amherst area.
The service changes are derived from a comprehensive service analysis (completed by Nelson Nygaard), public workshops and hearings, letters, emails and voicemails. Implementation of the recommendations is possible because PVTA received an additional $4.2 million dollars in state contract assistance and $6 million dollars for additional buses from the Federal Transit Administration and MassDOT.
“With these service improvements, the PVTA will give our riders faster, more efficient and cost-effective service to get them where the need to go” said John Musante, Amherst town manager, chair of PVTA Advisory Board.
The improvements include seven new routes including a long-awaited Springfield cross town route that does not require a transfer at the Springfield Bus Terminal. Route X90 is a new route which introduces a grid system to the city of Springfield. Current riders need to travel into the Springfield Bus Terminal to travel to another part of the city. The X90 and X92 cross town routes will allow transfers between routes to decrease overall travel time. They will also connect the population in the most densely populated areas of the city to shopping opportunities.
“Our passengers have been waiting a long time for PVTA to have the funding to initiate new service and I am pleased to say that now is the time” said Mary L. MacInnes, PVTA administrator.
Another new route, R29 Holyoke to Amherst, provides access for education and employment opportunities for Holyoke residents and shopping opportunities for college students at the Holyoke Mall.
"I applaud the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and their staff for working so diligently on the new service implementation plan. Here in Holyoke, we are so excited to implement the new service, as it will benefit residents in all neighborhoods, and increase access and connectivity throughout our community. Pioneer Valley residents are fortunate to have the forward-thinking leadership of Mary MacInnes, and it has been an honor to serve on the organization's advisory board" said Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.
There will be more hours of service on 14 routes, mostly on weekends. There will be 15 routes with improved frequencies.
One of the goals of the CSA is for PVTA to operate as efficiently as possible. PVTA needs to allocate resources in areas that can generate the most number of riders. Six routes were discontinued that had low ridership and most had other transit options. Twelve routes have been streamlined by eliminating deviations that actually discouraged ridership.
Two new types of service were recommended and will be pursued further. One is called bus rapid transit, which is a high-capacity and high-frequency integrated bus system that efficiently moves passengers. These buses typically operate along a dedicated bus lane, have a specialized design and an infrastructure that enhances the passenger experience and ease of use. MassDOT, PVTA, and the city of Springfield will partner to complete a study to determine the feasibility of BRT on State Street.
The other new type of service is a flex route which operates on a fixed-route for part of the route and deviates off the route on an on-demand basis. PVTA and the town of South Hadley will partner on introducing flex service as a pilot project for the fall of this year. If this pilot is successful, the service will be rolled out in the other communities recommended in the study.
“The level of excitement for the new innovative and flexible service in South Hadley is palpable. Working with an RTA who understands that as available resources shrink there must be an effort to invent new ways to meet transit needs, is critical. Congratulations to the PVTA for figuring out how to meld new technology without the age old single-minded solution of service elimination and working to find sustainable ways to invigorate new ridership” said Michael Sullivan, town of South Hadley administrator.
These new service changes are the first step in a series of improvements that PVTA will be offering this year and next year to enhance the rider experience. PVTA will be introducing a Smart Card for fare payment so passengers won’t have to pay with cash. PVTA will also be introducing real-time LED signage at major bus stops so that passengers will know exactly when the bus will arrive.
PVTA has launched an extensive marketing campaign to introduce the new service changes to the public which include flyers on all PVTA buses, exterior bus advertisements, television commercials, radio advertisements, and notices on local public access channels, on PVTA bus terminal monitors, website and social media outlets. PVTA staff will also be conducting numerous outreaches throughout the Pioneer Valley during weekdays, weekends and evening hours.