PVTA, others land state grants to buy vehicles, launch programs that expand coverage

The Healey-Driscoll administration recently awarded $37 million in grants to regional transit authorities statewide, a portion of which went to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to expand services and help buy vehicles.

The Healey-Driscoll administration recently awarded $37 million in grants to regional transit authorities statewide, a portion of which went to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to expand services and help buy vehicles. gazette file photo

By ALEXA LEWIS

Staff Writer

Published: 05-24-2024 5:00 PM

Modified: 05-30-2024 2:07 PM


Public transportation services will soon expand and improve throughout the region thanks to an influx of state money that the two transit authorities that cover Hampshire and Franklin counties will use to buy new accessible vehicles and implement several new transportation programs for increased connectivity in rural areas.

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) and Franklin County Transit Authority will receive a portion of $37 million being awarded through competitive grant programs that was recently announced by the Healey-Driscoll administration.

The PVTA, through the Community Transportation Grant Program, is poised to receive $188,008 to help acquire 29 accessible vehicles, 25 of which will provide general coverage in the PVTA service area of Hampshire and Hampden counties.

The remaining four vehicles will be awarded to councils on aging. The Easthampton and Amherst councils on aging will each receive one accessible vehicle, while the Tri-Town Trolley service, which runs in East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, and Hampden, will receive two accessible vans.

The goal of these vehicle purchases is to “facilitate and support transportation for older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals in the region,” according to Brandy Pelletier, PVTA’s manager of marketing, advertising and public relations and clerk to its advisory board.

PVTA intends to use some of these vehicles to launch a new “Connecting Rural Communities” service, which is “designed to increase accessibility within the rural communities of Greenfield, Leverett, Sunderland and Amherst,” according to authority. The service will be provided cooperatively with PVTA’s grant partners: South County Senior Center, Amherst Council on Aging and PVTA’s ADA Paratransit provider MV Transit.

“The proposed service expands mobility options for all residents to access medical care, education, and employment and other needs by offering direct transportation links between Amherst and Greenfield. The less populated communities, Leverett and Sunderland, will add new connections that did not previously exist,” said Pelletier.

The route will initially operate from Monday to Friday with three daily round trips from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Service will leave Amherst at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. It will leave Greenfield at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., and 2 p.m.

Far-reaching pilot program

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PVTA also filed a joint application for Regional Transit Innovation Grant funding with the Franklin Regional Transit Authority and the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority to rehabilitate seven buses and start a pilot program interconnecting the three service areas. This program would provide connections to rural areas between Pittsfield and Northampton as well as between North Adams and Greenfield.

“This new pilot service will open the possibilities for residents to expand their employment, education, and social opportunities,” said Pelletier. “It will also address inequities in transportation options available to rural residents.”

The grant for this collaborative effort totals $4,610,701.

PVTA was also individually awarded $82,133 through the Regional Transit Innovation Grant for its proposed Connecting Individuals to Employment Program. The program will provide transportation that connects eligible individuals living in Amherst and surrounding areas to employment opportunities in Hatfield, Whatley and Deerfield.

“This service will provide access to those identified by Craig’s Doors and other social services as unhoused that are seeking employment by connecting these individuals to rural communities where jobs are available,” PVTA said.

Transportation through this program is limited, and will only be available to riders who live in or around Amherst and are seeking employment in one of the three service towns. Service will be available to those who use homeless shelter services as well, and individuals will be screened for eligibility by local organizations.

The money for local transit authorities is part of $37 million statewide. Of that total, the Community Transportation Grant Program will award almost $20 million for the purchase of vehicles and over $2 million for mobility and accessibility-expanding projects, while the Regional Transit Innovation Grant provides $15 million in operating and capital funding, according to the state Department of Transportation.

“We are excited to announce these grant funds because we know the money will go a long way to supporting the needs of organizations that provide mobility options across the state,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement. “Public transportation plays a crucial role when it comes to accessibility, community connectivity, and economic growth and we will work to ensure that all residents have access to the transportation services they need.”

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @alexamlewis.