I have covered every one of these hearings as a reporter for nextooze.com. I have two columns on that website. I’m both the Western Massachusetts Disability Examiner and I was recently promoted to the National Disability Examiner as well. But today, just for under three minutes, hopefully, I am taking off my reporter hat and going to comment on the proposed changes and fare increases proposed by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), as a customer.
In a way I’m glad that my job required me to cover every one of these hearings. It gave me a lot of insight into the ramifications of the PVTA proposals I would not have had otherwise. I was alarmed to hear about the woman who might have to give up her volunteer position, because the round-trip fare would be prohibitive. It saddened me greatly to learn about the woman who might be forced out of her family home because she would have no transit if she needed it. As a child advocate, I was frankly horrified to learn about young people walking the streets of Springfield just to get to school in all manner of whether and surrounded by whatever negative elements might be lurking there, just waiting for them, because their parents couldn’t afford the $55 to buy them a bus pass.
Note that PVTA mistakenly considers 13 year olds as adults. Who decided that? Have they ever spent time with a 13 year old? I think the PVTA should consider all these people before it makes any decision.
I am one of them. Let me tell you about my situation. I live in Belchertown. This is not the most frequently served area by the large buses. We have eight a day during the week during college semesters. We have seven a day during breaks. We have five a day on Saturdays and three a day on Sundays during school. This reduces to three and two during breaks. If you wanted to get me on a big bus and, according to your own calculations, paying 15% more of my fare cost, I need a bus that runs at something like 10:30 AM instead of leaving me with the only choices of getting out of bed near 7 AM to be ready to catch the eight o’clock bus or being stuck in my house until 1 PM. I’m sorry, but what kind of choices are those? Like many other people I’ve heard testify at these hearings I need a PVTA that works for me, not one I feel like I am working for.
On the subject of the proposed fare increases, I would like to tell you what they would mean for me personally. I am, I suppose, a heavy paratransit user. In a normal week, I spend $44 on the van service. That’s $176 a month. If your fare increases go through I will be paying $50.50 weekly or $204 a month. That may not seem like a lot to you, but it’s currently approximately 21.5 % of my income, which, including the amount I make from self-employment, is around $817. If these changes go through it will be approximately 24.9% of my income.
After rent, transit is my biggest expense. No one, especially someone who is trying so hard to become more financially independent should have to spend almost one fourth of their income on transportation. My analysis did not include any regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments, except for one, because I have that weekly. However, lately, I’ve been having some health problems and needing to go to the doctor more often and to different doctors. I hope this clears up soon and I can go back to my normal, relatively physician free, life.
I’m working on it. I take my medicine. I deal with the needles. I go to the gym. I do my part. All I’m asking is that the PVTA not make it harder on me by making me worry about where I’m going to come up with 50 more cents per one-way trip. What am I to do? Stop going to the gym which has lost me 20 hard fought pounds. Skip some doctors’ appointments. Neither one of those things seems very smart at all.
But I am lucky. I have a mom who will help me out with transit expenses from time to time. But as she just retired I don’t know how long that is going to last and I feel weird asking her anyway. My question is what about the people who have no one to ask? Have you thought about them when you are proposing these changes?
This proposal also affects my employability. I understand that the cost of going to some outlying areas of PVTA service will increase to $7 one-way. If I have to cover a story in one of these areas will I be charged $7? I’m going to have a really hard time accepting a story that will cost me $14 round-trip to cover. I’m sure my boss will have an equally hard time accepting my declining my assignment. If you do that too often, you find yourself unemployed.
It may be just a little Internet job to you, but to me it’s one of the first real jobs I’ve ever had and it matters. Regular newspapers do read Internet publications searching for talent. I’m just waiting for someone, somewhere to give me the shot I need. Trust me, I only need one. If I get it, I’m not going to screw up.
I know the PVTA needs money. In this economy, who doesn’t? But I think they are seeking it from the wrong people- persons with disabilities, low-wage workers, our elders, and our students simply don’t have any money to give you. Would it be possible, and a bit more practical, to found a “Friends of the PVTA” foundation which would either subsidize travel for those who couldn’t afford it or donate money annually to help fund the PVTA? I’ll volunteer to be its first member and I will organize its first fundraiser. You have my name, my e-mail, my phone number. You can call me. I may not have much money, but I can put together one heck of a party.
The last thing I would like to talk to you about is the Smart card. When I first heard about it I was very happy. It meant no more handling money and potentially dropping it. I ride the Ride service in Boston, which is equivalent to the paratransit in this area, when I go there one of the things I like about them is that I never have to touch or think about money to use that service. I have an account and I load money onto it. No worries about exact change or unscrupulous personnel.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned that paratransit users were not going to be included in this new program. In my opinion, you must come up with some sort of equivalent thing for people who have trouble actually physically handling money. We need it more than the average bus rider does.