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PVTA: Baker's Budget In 'Right Direction,' But Still Underfunds Regional Transit

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority says Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's budget proposal came up several million dollars short in funding for transit agencies outside the Boston area.

The day before releasing his budget, Baker gave his State of the Commonwealth address. He talked about public transit, specifically the MBTA.

"Our 2021 budget proposal will include an increase of $135 million in operating funds for the T," Baker said to applause.

That's a big boost for the MBTA, which oversees transit around Boston and has struggled with derailments and service problems. 

"This will ensure that the T has the resources it needs to implement the recommendations of its safety review panel, and continue to accelerate service improvements," the governor said.

Baker's budget also included a $3.5 million increase for the 15 regional transit authorities across the state that operate mostly buses.

In budget documents, the Baker Administration claimed the $90.5 million in base funding for those agencies is "consistent" with what was requested by a special task force.

But that's just not so, said Paul Burns-Johnson, director of transit operations at the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority.

"I think we're at least satisfied that we're heading in the right direction, but it simply is not enough," Burns-Johnson said.

That's because Baker in his FY21 budget proposal gave regional transit authorities what they requested for FY20. But costs grow each year, and that task force wanted automatic annual increases.

So, Burns-Johnson said, Baker's proposed budget is actually $2.7 million short.

"You know, that basic level of funding is required to provide the basic level of service to our riders," he said.

The PVTA — by far the busiest of the regional transit authorities in Massachusetts — reduced service and raised fares a couple years ago. But Burns-Johnson said Baker's recent proposal is probably good enough to avoid significant cuts.

A PVTA bus in December 2009.
Credit Steven Brewer / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/limako
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Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/limako
A PVTA bus in December 2009.

The budget plan, like last year, included an additional $3.5 million for competitive grants, but transit agencies can't bank on that money year-to-year.

Burns-Johnson is hopeful lawmakers come through with more guaranteed funding.

"You know, it's very early in the process, and it's hard to know what that outcome is," he said.

And there's some extra hope this year, as the Massachusetts House is expected to take up the very issue of reliable revenue for transportation. And one specific focus mentioned by the speaker of the House: regional transit authorities.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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