Updated Nov. 15, 2018
A group of five Hampshire County colleges is increasing payments to the cash-strapped Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to help keep three bus routes between the campuses running.
The schools will ramp up their annual subsidy from $500,000 to $750,000 over a five-year period to help close a funding gap for the service.
In a long standing agreement, the PVTA doesn't charge fares on these routes while classes are in session.
Kevin Kennedy, a spokesman with the Five College Consortium, said the buses log more than 900,000 rides during the academic year, and it's not all just students.
"During the school year, many local residents also ride the buses, because they work on the campuses," Kennedy said. "The buses will stop in downtowns and shopping centers, so we think that it provides a great service to local residents."
Kennedy said both the colleges and the PVTA will be keeping an eye on the finances of the bus service.
"Obviously, as time goes on, PVTA's expenses will increase, whether it's gas or insurance or various other expenses," Kennedy said. "Once this agreement is complete... we'll sit down with PVTA again, and really assess how well it's worked, and what the next steps will be."
Sandra Sheehan, the PVTA's administrator, said in a statement the additional funding is critical.
"Increasing costs of service and level funding make it impossible for PVTA to maintain the service we currently provide," Sheehan said. "This agreement exhibits a true partnership of helping maintain a crucial service in a critical time. The additional funding that Five Colleges has agreed to contribute helps to close that funding gap, and allows for service to be preserved."
In recent years, the PVTA has had to raise fares and trim bus routes elsewhere to help cope with budget troubles.