Saturday, September 5, 2009

Meditation on the PVTA

So earlier this week I dropped off my car in Northampton for a couple of routine repairs, thinking I would easily be able to pick it up at the end of the week. Due to a variety of scheduling difficulties, I wasn't able to proceed with plan A (making LawyerGirl drive me Thursday morning) or Plan B (I forget what Plan B was, but it was probably excellent). I ended up taking the bus from Springfield, where I work, to Northampton. As the Google Maps fly, this is a distance of a little more than 20 miles, which takes about half an hour in the car. Other than a taxi, or throwing myself on the mercy of one of my coworkers, there were two bus options: the Peter Pan (based in Springfield!), an $8 one-way ticket, or the much-maligned PVTA, for $1.25 a ride or a $3 day pass.

I have spent five years living in the Pioneer Valley and have taken a bus here and there, but for the most part I use my car to get around. Part of this is because I love my car, and part of this is because the motto of the PVTA should be "You Can't Get There From Here." Let's say I wanted to take the bus to work from Easthampton to Springfield. I could get up to catch the 6:35 AM bus to HCC (whoops, no, the early bus doesn't stop at HCC for some reason). I would have to take the 7:25 bus to HCC, which arrives at 7:40. Then I could wait around until 8:00 for the P11 HCC Express, which gets in to Springfield at 8:25. That's not too bad! Only an hour on the bus. However, I can't take this route back. Why? Because the last bus leaves Springfield at 4:30, which is a completely inconvenient time for anyone who works normal business hours. So I would have to take another bus back. The last bus leaves HCC for Easthampton at 5:40, which rules out any bus that goes from Springfield to Westfield after 5:00 (otherwise known as the time that a lot of people get off work), and then on to HCC. The only other bus routes to Easthampton come from the direction of Northampton. Ok. So, what if I got off work at 5 and took the bus from Springfield to Northampton, and then on to Easthampton? Well, I learned yesterday that that trip will take at least TWO HOURS. But, for the sake of argument, let's say I get on the P20 at 5:15 in downtown Springfield. I'll get to downtown Holyoke at 6:30, hopefully make my instantaneous connection to the B48 bus, and arrive in Northampton at 7:00. Whoops! It is now too late to take the R41 into Easthampton. Well, what about the Nashawannuck Express, which is one of those little buses that the elderly take to get places, and you can call to pick up (and presumably was one of the ones involved in the PVTA scandal a few years back in which an elderly man died)? Well, let's say I can take that bus to Easthampton, even though it's not entirely clear from the schedule that I can. I would finally get back to the Easthampton Senior Center (a twenty minute walk from my house) at 8:00. That's THREE HOURS after getting off work. If I took the bus in the morning and home at night, I would spend at least four hours in transit.

The point of this exercise is not to illustrate that the PVTA sucks. Everyone knows that the service has had votes of no confidence and, of course, the death of a paratransit rider who was dropped at the wrong location. Sure, the drivers could probably be more diligent and the Springfield buses, at least, could benefit from not running the heat in the summer. The point is that there are a lot of people in this valley who rely on local bus service to get from place to place because they can't afford the luxury of owning a car. The point is I had a patron last month who was offered a job--in this economy--at CNS in Hatfield, but couldn't take it because he doesn't own a car and guess what? The PVTA doesn't really go anywhere near Hatfield. The point is that there are lots of people like me who could drive a little way to a parking lot for a commuter rail line that went from Hartford to Greenfield or Brattleboro, which would save countless gallons of gas (for consumers) and air pollution (for the environment). It's about time that we stopped screwing around with useless digital road sign projects and started building something that will actually be useful, environmentally sound, and serve a wide variety of people. In the meantime, the PVTA could go a long way by listening to its constituents and scheduling buses for when people actually need to travel. All right, I'm done.

ETA: And just in case you're thinking--wait, why doesn't she just live in Springfield, since that's where she works? I would be happy to live in Springfield, actually. We just managed to buy the house before I got my job. But the next time we move, Springfield will definitely be in the equation.

1 comment:

Helen said...

I was just researching the subject of riding the bus to Springfield from Northampton (an even longer ride than from Eho) for a story I'm writing. It's four years since you posted this, and there's been no improvement in the routes you described so well. We may be incrementally closer to a N-S train line. I'll believe it - and use it - when I see it.