By BRIAN BOYD | Southcoast Today
FALL RIVER — Advocates for bus riders rallied outside Government Center Thursday evening demanding expanded regional service in the evenings and on Sundays.
More than 80 people joined the rally, calling for more service for riders of the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority. Advocates then attended the authority’s advisory board meeting and made their case during the public comment portion.
Authority officials said they were looking into providing night and Sunday service, but they have to convince state and federal officials to increase funding.
Brian Pastori, a New Bedford resident and spokesman for Bus Riders United, told other protesters at the rally that if he works until 6:30 p.m. at his job in the North End, he needs a ride because there is no bus service at that time.
“It’s not right,” said Pastori, who works at the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. “It’s not fair.”
The protesters chanted “Bus service now” and “More buses, fewer cars.” Members of the rally held signs, including ones with the message: “Fix it. Fund it. Make it fair.”
During the meeting’s public comment period, speakers argued limited bus service hurts elderly and disabled residents who rely on buses.
“Some of us go out to church on Sundays,” said Joy Reis, of Fall River, who is a member of Massachusetts Senior Action Council and was speaking on behalf of disabled riders.
Advocates also told the SRTA board that the lack of night and Sunday service creates problems for college students and immigrants who don’t own cars and sometimes work late or on weekends.
Jose Soler, director of the UMass Dartmouth Labor Education Center, said students who take evening classes have a hard time getting home without bus service at night. He said expanded bus service is needed to help working people.
“Without bus service, we can’t have really good economic development,” Soler said.
Young people who need jobs might be able to find an opportunity at the Dartmouth Mall but have trouble getting to work, he added afterward.
Bus transit advocates need the help of the board in convincing state lawmakers to provide consistent funding of services, said Gary Pires, the president and business agent for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1037 in New Bedford, which represents SRTA drivers, mechanics and cleaners. “We ask for your help,” Pires said.
The board approved a $14 million budget for the regional service that included no additional money for expanded hours. However, the chairman, Fall River Mayor William Flanagan, said he appreciated the message of advocates calling for increased service.
“It’s an issue of equity for Southeastern Massachusetts as well as an issue of economic justice,” Flanagan said. But he said there needs to be a study to determine the demand for increased services, and supporters need to lobby Beacon Hill and Washington for the money.
SRTA Administrator Erik Rousseau said after the meeting that he plans to look at revamping the fare system, with its multiple zones, and come up with a less complex system. He said this could encourage more people to ride the bus, and the authority in turn could use the increased ridership to convince state and federal officials to boost funding, which would pay for expanded service.