PVTA seeks grant to pilot Amherst-Greenfield route

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 07-13-2023 11:35 AM

SUNDERLAND — As the South County Senior Center continues to work with neighboring transit authorities, Pioneer Valley Transit Authority representatives shared news last week that there may be a potential solution to some of Sunderland’s transportation woes for its seniors.

Speaking to a handful of attendees, PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan and Director of Planning and Operations Paul Burns-Johnson announced that PVTA, the Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) and the Senior Center have been collaborating in recent weeks and have submitted an application for a grant to pilot a transportation route that would connect Amherst and Greenfield.

While in the early stages — and there is a chance the grant might not be awarded — the pilot program would operate at least four days a week, and up to five if the Senior Center receives its own grant. The transportation route would cover Amherst, Shutesbury, Leverett, Deerfield/Whately at the park and ride, and Greenfield.

“We’ve heard there is a disconnect between some rural communities,” Sheehan said, with Burns-Johnson noting the pilot program will gauge the usage of such a service. “If this is implemented, we’ll see what the demand is.”

The proposed route would first operate beginning in Amherst at 9 a.m. and returning at 10:30 a.m., while a second route would begin at noon and return at 1:30 p.m.

“What the attempt with this grant is, is to see how much of the need there is to go from [Amherst] to [Greenfield],” Sheehan said. “We’re asking someone to fund it for us. We’ll work it out, see how it goes and we’ll sit down with all the stakeholders.”

Last Thursday’s conversation was the second of two planned community forums with the regional transit authorities serving the Pioneer Valley. FRTA officials joined the Senior Center in early June to talk about FRTA resources and programs. One of the major focuses of these forums, beside facilitating travel for seniors, was to raise awareness about the public transportation gap in Sunderland.

The town is a member of and served by PVTA, partly because of the large University of Massachusetts Amherst student population. This means FRTA’s service options are limited in Sunderland because towns must pay an assessment to be a transit authority member.

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The two transit agencies have acknowledged there is a gap in bringing Sunderland residents to Franklin County destinations, but as FRTA Administrator Tina Cote noted, “money is always the root of everything.”

Another challenge, particularly for PVTA, Sheehan said, is “sometimes, it’s the squeakiest wheel that gets the most attention,” which is often Springfield, Chicopee or Holyoke because of the greater demand in cities.

For more information, including about its senior van transportation service, which serves 24 member communities in Hampshire and Hampden counties as well as Sunderland, visit pvta.com or call 413-739-7436.

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