Update on PVTA route changes

Photo by Jim Gipe

July 21, 2017 Update

Due in large part to an overwhelming response from the Five College community, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) has voted to largely maintain existing Five College routes. Changes in the two routes affecting members of the Smith community are listed below.

  • Route 39 (Connecting Smith College to Mount Holyoke college and Hampshire College) will remain unaffected. Further, Five Colleges, Inc. will work with the PVTA to better align the Route 39 schedule with class start and end times.
  • Route M40 (The Minuteman Express, connecting Smith College to UMass via an express route) will be discontinued. Express routes will be added to the B43 route to serve those commuters affected by the route change.

(Editor’s note: the below story appeared on June 26, 2017.) 

Smith College, alongside the other members of the Five College Consortium, is seeking community support in opposing proposed cuts to essential Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Five College bus routes.

Approximately one million passengers each academic year ride the Five College bus routes—riders who otherwise might not have affordable transportation to classes, health care or supermarkets. In return, each of the Five College campuses funds a portion of their city’s PVTA assessment—in Smith’s case, the annual payment is more than $70,000. The Student Government Association (SGA) also pays the PVTA almost $36,000 per year to subsidize night and weekend Five College routes.

Recently, the PVTA announced several proposed service eliminations. Of the 22 service options being considered for elimination, four are on Five College routes, representing at least 85,000 passengers a year.

The two proposed route cancellations that impact Smith students directly are: M40, an express bus between Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst; and Route 39, which connects Smith College to Mount Holyoke College and Hampshire College.

If Route 39 were lost, the Five College exchange between Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire would be significantly impacted. Students traveling between Smith and Hampshire, for example, could face more than one hour of additional round trip travel—making cross-registration of courses nearly impossible to schedule. Delays would also affect cross-registration with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst if the M40 were eliminated. 

Smith College's statement read at the June 29, 2017 public hearing in Northampton

For nearly 40 years, the campuses of the Five College consortium have been partners with PVTA and our local communities in providing subsidized bus service to everyone living in this area.

Each academic year, one million passengers ride the Five College bus routes; this is a million riders who otherwise might not have affordable transportation to classes, health care or supermarkets, or who might otherwise be driving cars and exacerbating our pollution, traffic and parking issues. That’s why the Five Colleges gladly pay more than six hundred thousand dollars a year to PVTA.

It’s therefore unfortunate that these hearings are at a time when our students—the primary beneficiaries of the bus service—are gone for the summer, and that PVTA didn’t inform us  that they are considering eliminating some of our routes. In addition, the numbers used by the PVTA to gauge ridership in Five College routes came from the week leading up to October Break – a time when students are often returning home or traveling. Our data from Seemo shows this week at approximately 20% below standard ridership.

Serious process concerns aside, I would like share some important points from our perspective.

Eliminating the 39 would render it all but impossible for many students at Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire to take courses at each others’ campuses, and cross-registration is one of the cornerstones of the Five College consortium. Similar cross-registration problems between Smith, and UMass would exist if the M40 were eliminated.  

These eliminations would affect 39,000 riders – primarily students who chose to enroll in the Five College system in part because of the ease of accessibility. The very accessibility these cuts now threaten.

Students who have registered for classes in the fall may return to campus in September to find that they don’t have a means of getting to their classes. And, because these hearings are being held over the summer, they have little chance to voice their concern.

We recognize that eliminating any of the bus runs you are considering will have a significant impact on the people who rely on them, and so we ask you to re-think your approach. Addressing a short-term deficit by taking hasty actions with serious and long-term negative consequences shouldn’t be the answer.


Members of the Smith community are encouraged to submit  comments via email before July 17 to comments@pvta.com or by sending a letter to this address: Sandra E. Sheehan, Administrator, 2808 Main Street. Springfield, MA 01107.