PVTA gets an “A” for being green
Plentiful, efficient transportation, student involvement, and a green initiative have earned the University of Massachusetts’ transit system an “A” in the 2010 college sustainability report.
Director of UMass Transit Al Byam said the primary reason for earning the grade was “the large usage from the student population,” adding that “it’s free and easy to use, the only thing you have to do is look up the bus schedule.”
UMass’ transport is a part of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s (PVTA) Five College network, which means transportation is free to all students and faculty members of Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire and UMass. However, the system is not exclusive to students, faculty and staff, with the PVTA helping many citizens of Amherst and the Pioneer Valley get around each day.
The ridership on the PVTA buses has significantly increased in the past year, rising 6.86 percent, and now carries 14,000 to 16,000 passengers a week, according to numbers in the report. The transit system makes it more accessible for students to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Five Colleges, helping many students take classes at different colleges.
According to Byam, in the future months, UMass Transit hopes to increase service “if the economy improves.”
Despite the top grade, some students are still reluctant to use the bus system.
“I have never used [UMass Transit],” said UMass student Emily Gonsalbes. “I have just never gotten around to figuring it out.”
The bus schedule is posted online at the PVTA website, pvta.com, but some students suggested they are unwilling to go through the effort of understanding the multitude of bus routes.
“It was only difficult when I didn’t know how to read the bus schedule,” said Rachel Levitt, a UMass freshman. “But, it is pretty easy to use, once you figure it out.”
Some members of the faculty also use the PVTA system, hoping to avoid the fees and chaos of parking on campus.
“[The PVTA] is very convenient,” said Thomas Moore, a computer consultant who takes the bus from Sunderland to get to work at UMass everyday. “It comes right to the end of my street.”
According to Byam, UMass Transit has taken on a green initiative in the past year with success. The University is attempting to use cleaner fuel to power their buses, and also make it easier to walk and bike to the campus rather than driving in. “We are always looking for alternative, cleaner fuel to use,” he said.
Currently, the campus buses use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, one of the cleanest available fuels for buses.
For their efforts providing viable alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles on campus, UMass Transit was awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Commuter’s Choice Award in 2006.
Many academic departments are involved in the transit system, according to Byam. Computer Science researchers have recently worked installing a tracking system into PVTA buses, which will eventually allow riders to track buses’ locations in real time online.
“We have been working with the engineering department for years,” said Byam. He expressed hopes to expand student involvement, and continue the strong connections already made in various academic departments.
The PVTA has long made use of the school’s large student work force, which is one reason it scored high on the sustainability report card. 90 percent of employees are UMass students, including 50 student bus drivers.
“Our student work force is excellent,” said Byam. “They are our bread and butter.”
‘Going green’ remains a popular notion among the student body, according to Byam.
“I think the [green initiative] is very important to the students, it is critical to their futures to begin saving energy,” he said. “Going green should be ingrained in every lifestyle.”
Environmental protection is key to many students using the bus system, Levitt said.
“It is a lot better to take the bus than have everyone coming on to campus with their own cars polluting the air.”
“This is a move in the right direction for the PVTA,” said Molly Flynn, a UMass freshman and member of MASSPIRG. “Becoming more environmentally friendly sends the right message; that the PVTA cares about more than just transporting people.”
However, others like Moore said that environmental protection is not a top priority when he steps on the bus.
“On a scale of one to ten, environmental safety is about a two or a three,” he said.
Byam hopes to carry UMass Transit’s progress into the future.
“We are working on new ideas everyday,” he said. “We are currently in preliminary discussions to get new hybrid buses for the school.”
Laura Lovett can be reached at email@example.com.