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MART Weighs Route Reductions

September 25, 2018

The Montachusett Area Regional Transit Authority is considering route reductions in the communities of Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Athol, and Orange in response to a recent drop in federal and state funding.

Members of the MART Advisory Board met Tuesday morning to discuss how roughly $500,000 in cuts to services could be made in its current budget.

Deputy Administrator Bruno Fisher said this will lead to some reductions of the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. bus loop through the cities of Leominster, Fitchburg, and Gardner, though the majority of the savings are expected to come from changes to service schedules in Athol and Orange.

“Two years ago, the state basically said they weren’t going to fund it anymore,” Fisher said of services through the two towns.

As a way to save money, MART has proposed cutting one of two shuttle services that now run through Athol and Orange.

“There are about two loops that run right now for about an hour and a half, each for about 12 hours a day,” said Fisher. “We’re talking about cutting that down to one. It would still be running 12 hours a day, but we’d cut the loop down to one hour.”

MART has yet to determine what parts of the latest hour loop (9 p.m.-10 p.m.) through Leominster, Fitchburg, and Gardner will be reduced.

“I’d say a substantial portion of the routes really didn’t have a lot of extra service in that extra hour we added last year, but there are some that had some pretty significant ridership that has been growing month to month,” said Fisher. “We may be looking to cut half of them, or two-thirds of them.”

The extent of the reductions MART will have to be make is greatly determined by a total $4 million the state is planning to disperse among Massachusetts’ regional transit authorities, however MART is still unsure how much money it will receive and when it will be getting it.

Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, who also attended Tuesday’s board meeting, said news of possible service reductions has been met by pushback in his town.

“I understand it’s a function of dollars, but that area of the commonwealth is chronically under-served. Some people don’t even have cars,” he said. “These are folks on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of economic and social ability to access transportation.”

Suhoski also noted that Athol’s shuttle service had been one of MART’s only fixed routes that actually saw ridership increase in the last two years, growing from about 18,000 to 22,000. Only two others of the total 16 routes reported any increase, one of which only grew by less than 400 riders.

Though the potential reductions discussed by the board on Tuesday are only proposals and are not definitely the actions MART will be taking, Fisher said he expects some form of service change to start by December.

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53

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