HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is calling on the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) to not charge people for bus fares. He said riders are still struggling financially during the pandemic.

Morse believes the PVTA can get the funds from the federal government to subsidize transportation throughout western Mass.

“I'm calling on the PVTA administration and leadership to continue to be fare-free for residents here in western Mass. Onetime payment of $1,200 isn't cutting it for families here," Morse said.

Morse is asking the PVTA to stop their plans to begin charging riders again starting Sunday. The PVTA had been allowing free fares so people could enter the bus from the back door during the coronavirus pandemic. They told Western Mass News in a statement, saying quote:

"With passengers boarding through the rear doors, collecting fares was not a feasible option and was temporarily waived to keep our workforce healthy. Barriers have been installed on all of our buses separating the driver from the farebox and passengers boarding, which will allow PVTA to begin collecting fares starting July 19."

The PVTA told Western Mass News their fare revenue makes up 16 percent of the operating budget. Which was about $7.8 million for the fiscal year of 2020, however, Morse said the PVTA just received $36 million from the federal government and believes the money can be used to pay for bus fares.

"I think it's important that we use those federal funds to subsidize the transportation on buses here and public transit. Too often, our government subsidizes the ownership of a personal vehicle rather than subsidizes public transportation.," Morse noted.

The PVTA said they remain open to other options, saying quote:

"If Mayor Morse is suggesting that PVTA replicate what the City of Lawrence is doing, where the city subsidizes fares for riders within the city, that is a partnership that we could entertain."

But Morse is thinking bigger and told us he wants to make sure the PVTA can guarantee free transportation on buses throughout western Mass.

Morse is challenging Congressman Richard Neal in the democratic primary for the first congressional district. Western Mass News has reached out to the Neal campaign for comment on this issue, but have yet to hear back.

Copyright 2020 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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