By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
GREATER SPRINGFIELD – The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority
(PVTA) Advisory Board approved a number of changes to routes, however for local suburban areas, those alterations will be minor, according to Administrator Mary MacInnes.
The changes were decided upon as part of a 13-month process to review the regional transit authority’s service in an effort to improve and streamline the operations.
“There were several purposes to the review. One was to determine if there were areas where we could provide new service or existing service could be improved or if the service could be more direct and therefore more attractive to more people,” she said. “We had a lot of crazy deviations and that actually discourages people from riding if it takes longer to get to their destination.”
Route changes were approved and announced on May 29, with minor alterations to the G-5 route that services the Route 5 corridor in Longmeadow, but more significant adjustments to the R-27 route in Wilbraham.
MacInnes explained that the implementation of the changes would be staggered and dependent upon the equipment. Commencing its study independently, the PVTA was ahead of the curve when the state required all 15 regional transit authorities (RTA) to conduct a comprehensive service analysis. The analysis resulted in additional available funding from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation
(MassDOT), which will help make the service changes possible, MacInnes pointed out.
“The timing of the conclusion of the study is perfect because when the legislature passed the Transportation Finance Bill, they approved additional funding for the regional transit authorities,” she said, explaining that MassDOT distributes funds based on ridership, which is a benefit to the area. “PVTA represents almost 39 percent of the total ridership of all 15 RTAs in Massachusetts, so that formula certainly benefits us.”
It was recommended that the G-5 route be eliminated due to poor ridership, however, after a meeting with MacInnes and a separate hearing among themselves, Longmeadow Select Board members agreed to maintain the route for a trial period of six months. During that period, the town would allow the PVTA to erect new bus stop signs that provide route information, something not permitted previously.
“That route was suffering from very poor ridership levels,” MacInnes said. “The route in Longmeadow had a disadvantage because the town would not allow the PVTA to put up bus stop signs and those signs are very important for people to be aware of the service. We have a new bus stop campaign with new sign designs that will include the route number and information on the schedule of that route. Historically, our signs have just said ‘PVTA’ on them.”
The route will still commence in Springfield at the bus terminal, Dickinson Street to Jewish Geriatric Services continue on Converse Street, and then proceed down Route 5 to the Enfield, Connecticut, border. However, the existing loop around Tiffany Street to Converse Street will be eliminated.
“That is one of those deviations that could actually discourage ridership that I was talking about,” MacInnes said.
Service will also be on a consistent 60-minute interval, something that was not available previously, she added.
MacInnes also noted that if there were not significant increases in ridership, there was a recommendation to create a new service that would extend the route down into Connecticut to the MassMutual facility in Enfield. That service would provide six trips on weekdays that would be timed to coordinate with the Connecticut Transit bus lines and would not operate on weekends.
“I think that idea has a lot of potential, but that wouldn’t happen until there is a determination that the route that goes through Longmeadow just can’t increase its ridership,” she said.
Service to Wilbraham on the R-27 will be terminated, but it is not expected to take place until next year.
In the meantime the R-27, will continue operating down State Street to Wilbraham Road in Springfield, enter Wilbraham via Springfield Street with a Main Street/Tinkham Road/Stony Hill Road loop before continuing down Main Street to Boston Road to a Stony Hill/Dipping Hole Road loop back into Springfield on Kent Road and terminating at the Boston Road Stop & Shop.
“This is another route that suffers from poor ridership and this is not unusual for suburban communities because of the lack of population density levels,” MacInnes said.
Once the route is terminated, a new flex service will be implemented.
“Other transit authorities in the country operate these types of services,” MacInnes explained. “It’s kind of a combination of a fixed route and on-demand service.”
The flex service would operate on a specific fixed route, but would be available to those who call ahead and request to be picked up at a location not on the route. In order to begin the flex service, however, the PVTA would need a smaller vehicle to navigate the route and therefore its implementation is expected later in 2015.