PVTA adopts city bus route changes

SPRINGFIELD – Bus routes for Westfield’s public transportation patrons will soon undergo changes.
On Wednesday, the Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority’s Route Committee confirmed that several city routes will undergo updates over the course of this year, with a new pilot service potentially being tested out in the city, as well.
Currently in Westfield, the PVTA operates four routes, two of which are currently not in operation. The Westfield State Owl is a seasonal route servicing students, but the other three routes are set to receive small updates.
“The R10 service that goes to Union and Main Streets, that is not going to change until they can introduce a new community circulator,” said Joshua Rickman, a transit planner for the PVTA. “The R10 University Shuttle will be going from Westfield center and Noble Hospital all the way to Westfield State University. We can start that come fall, so we’ll have Union Street trips and Main Street trips operating the same way.”
A comprehensive service analysis was done earlier this year of all PVTA routes, which resulted in a recommended service plan for each. The board’s vote Wednesday came after a series of public hearings in late winter and early spring.
Recommendations for the R10, which currently runs from the PVTA’s Springfield terminal to Westfield State University’s Scanlon Hall, including the route in Westfield’s city center, while the current split routing which runs to Union Street and East Mountain Road would then be served by a “flex route” using a community circulator.
“A circulator typically has a defined route, like say, Union Street, but will have the ability to flex on and off of that route,” said Rickman of what he refers to as ‘mini-buses’, which fit 18 to 20 passengers. “They can pick up someone at a residence or a business off-route. Basically a smaller vehicle that has the ability to turn and access areas that a larger bus wouldn’t be able to go to.”
The community circulator will alleviate some of the service cuts made by the PVTA in 2003, when it slashed its budget by 20 percent.
“One thing this route will do is provide an extra layer of service that Westfield definitely needs,” Rickman said, citing Westfield’s large senior population as main beneficiaries. “A lot of them (seniors) don’t live directly onto a route or have access to a route, but it wouldn’t be limited to seniors or students – it’ll be open to everybody.”
Rickman added that improvements in service will also be occurring in Westfield, as weekday evening services will now be provided hourly until 11 p.m.
“When you look at the schedule for the current R10 after 6 p.m., we have a 6:50 trip, an 8:30 trip and a 9:30 trip,” he said. “One thing that was passed Wednesday was to provide hourly service after 6-11 p.m., so we’ll be providing more trips on the R10.”
Efficiency is the name of the game for the PVTA, and Rickman believes these changes will streamline Westfield’s service and enable more residents to utilize public transit.
“A lot of times our routes are doing different things, so with the R10 for instance, every other trip will service Union Street or Main Street, and that is not very good for schedule consistency or making it easy to use,” he said, explaining that most of Westfield’s ridership is downtown. “Union Street does have some important populations for us to serve, but the R10 is better designed staying on Route 20 and going to the shops every single time. If that circulator can just pick up those people on Union Street and bring them to the line, that would be a more efficient use of our services.”
Rickman added that the circulator would transport Union Streeters either to downtown Westfield or to the Springfield Road Walmart and the Little River Plaza.
“It would also provide services to 138 East Mountain Road and the hospital,” he said, citing handling difficulties PVTA buses face navigating that route. “A smaller vehicle would have a much easier time accessing those areas.”
As to what make and model these community circulators would be, Rickman said that is still up in the air.
“That is a little down the road. We’re hoping that is part of our analysis and research in determining the best vehicle size,” he said. “We’re proposing these circulators in six different locations, so there is a chance that the Westfield mini-bus may be different then say, the Agawam mini-bus.”
Rickman listed Agawam, East Longmeadow, Palmer, South Hadley, Ware, and Westfield as the communities where the PVTA is exploring offering flex services this fall.
“We want to do more research on flex routes. They’ve been implemented across the country and we want more data and information,” said PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes Wednesday. “We’re getting a new shipment of vehicles in August that allow us in the fall to introduce new service and routes. We didn’t have the small vehicles that would be needed to implement the routes.”
“When something is new like this, it’s not necessarily set in concrete,” MacInnes added. “If there are other ideas once the service gets to operating that will help the ridership, we obviously would entertain those.”
The amount of traffic generators in Westfield, namely Westfield State University, make it a good candidate for circulator service, according to MacInnes.

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