The Wheels On The Bus Get Slashed

Baker’s budget will cut funding for the PVTA—disproportionately impacting the poor and non-white, while he coddles corporations with incentives

ROJAS OLIVA

In a predictable result of Governor Charlie Baker’s commitment to cutting funding for regional transit authorities—or, said differently, austerity—the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) has voted to eliminate or cut services on 20 of its bus routes and raise fares from $1.25 to $1.60. The cuts are the result of lacking state funding for the PVTA, which left them facing a $1.38 million gap in their total annual budget of $48.21 million.

Let’s be honest about who these cuts would be affecting: 71% of riders reported annual incomes of $20,000 or less and 55% of riders reported incomes at or below the federal poverty level of $11,770 per year. 62% of riders are people of color, although the region as a whole is only 11% non-white. The PVTA offers crucial transportation services to 12 million passengers a year, with 68% of riders saying they have no other way to make the trip. Simply, affordable mass transit is a necessity for communities that don’t have the luxury of private transportation options. At stake is folks’ ability to get to work, buy groceries, visit loved ones, and all the accompanying freedoms that come with accessible public transportation.

In July, when some of the proposed route cuts were going to affect students of the 5 colleges, outrage quickly prompted the advisory board to spare the routes, merely shifting the burden to other communities. It’s an old story where representation and political power get partitioned along class and race lines, and poor communities of color are left out to dry.

These cuts also have to be understood in the context of Governor Charlie Baker’s pro-business agenda, which always somehow finds capital when industry comes calling. This week he filed a $610 million dollar economic development bill that included tax credits and a permanent sales tax holiday meant to create “the opportunity for larger credits commensurate with extraordinary economic opportunities.” In a surreal turn, the bill found the sports gambling site DraftKing gleefully thanking Baker for allowing fantasy sports gaming to continue and promising to create more jobs in the state.

This vision of Massachusetts as a haven for industry has guided Baker’s entire tenure in office. In his first term as governor, Baker, a former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, cut $98 million from the state budget leading the Mass Budget and Policy Center to refer to it as an “austerity budget.” He’s given $270 million to General Electric to call Boston home, and when the city submitted a 218 page bid to convince Amazon to build its second headquarters in Boston—likely bringing with it the rapid gentrification that Seattle has seen—Baker took the time to personally write a letter to Jeff Bezos. While there was no explicit mention of tax incentives, Baker assured him: “You have my personal commitment to marshal all of what Massachusetts has to offer for your consideration.” As far as The Shoestring has been able to discern, no PVTA riders received such letters.
The path Baker is taking Massachusetts down—prioritizing the interests of businesses over social services—always ends in rising inequality. Baker, however has been defeated before. While he campaigned and fundraisedalong with several corporations and the Walton familyin support of proposition 2, which would have allowed the expansion of charter schools in the state, a grassroots “No on 2” campaign successfully beat him out at the ballot box. “No on 2” shows that a movement dedicated to saving collective provisioning and strengthening communities can begin to center the margins and realign the direction of political power.

 


To get involved locally in fighting against cuts and for more funding for public transit, fill out this form by the coalition PVTA Riders United: http://bit.ly/pvtariders

Public comments on the upcoming cuts may be submitted until March 14:

By mail: PVTA Administrator, 2808 Main St., Springfield 01107

By email: comments@pvta.com

By phone: 413-732-6248 x239; leave up to a 3-minute recorded message

Online:  www.pvta.com; complete the comment form


Rojas Oliva is a student at Amherst College studying Biology and Environmental Studies. Tune into his radio show, Uncultured, to hear three small brownies talk about climate change, cumbias and filthy garage rock every Sundays from 6-8PM.

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