BELCHERTOWN – The Board of Selectmen questioned a proposed move by the PVTA to end shuttle service to Belchertown during their regular meeting on Monday, March 30.
The PVTA started the shuttle service in 2001. For the first seven years, according to figures provided by the authority, the monthly ridership averaged between 278 to 558 per month. The shuttle costs $85,000 a year to operate.
Brian O’Leary, Belchertown’s representative at the authority, told the selectmen that ridership has declined sharply over the past two years. The numbers for 2008 showed 281 riders per month took the shuttle, while the numbers, so far for 2009, have dropped to 278 per month.
He said that six to seven persons take the shuttle on a regular basis and such low ridership levels do not even pay for fuel cost. The shuttle averages nine trips a day. The last three trips of the day, though, only run between the Ware Wal-Mart and Belchertown Common. The first six trips stop along town destinations during the day that serve mostly seniors.
“The PVTA periodically assesses the ridership of all their lines to find out what lines are producing and what lines are not producing,” said O’Leary. “The Belchertown shuttle came up drastically low in response to the other shuttles in cities and towns that it runs in.”
He said the PVTA Advisory Board, at their last meeting, voted to end the shuttle service for Belchertown. But, because the PVTA receives state-supported assistance to operate the shuttle, it must go before a public hearing scheduled for April 16 at 2 pm in Belchertown.
O’Leary said broad support from residents could go along way at the hearing. He said if support is shown, then perhaps some of the shuttle runs could be spared, but, he added, the shuttle can not continue to run with the present level of ridership.
Chairman Michael J. Reardon asked O’Leary if he knew why the sharp drop in the number of riders, which up until 2007 showed 474 riders montly used the services?
O’Leary responded, “no.”
O’Leary speculated that it could be the economy and that persons are not shopping at Wal-Mart as much or that similar shuttle services in town are fulfilling the needs of residents, particularly seniors and persons with disabilities. He said the PVTA shuttle runs along a fixed routes while other services drive to a riders location.
Selectmen Ron Aponte wanted to know if routes or schedules have changed? O’Leary said nothing has been altered or changed and that Belchertown is the only community in the area that has shown such a sharp decline.
According to O’Leary, ridership is up on fixed routes and on shuttle services in other communities, but he could not explain why it dropped for Belchertown.
Selectman Jim Barry told O’Leary that better advertisement and making residents aware of the shuttle could increase ridership. Barry also wants a complete list of alternative van and shuttle services available to residents from O’Leary.
Agricultural Commission Introduced New Bylaw
Grace Adzima of the Agricultural Commission discussed a proposed bylaw that would notify new property owners and residents in town if they are either moving to or live in a zoned agricultural area.
Adzima spoke of the Massachusetts “Right to Farm” law that affords farmers certain protections to continue agricultural activities against the continued growth of suburban sprawl. The notification bylaw, in addition to the current town bylaw regarding zoned agricultural areas, would make a home buyer aware that farming activities are taking place nearby.
The state drafted a model bylaw for communities to use that strengthens notification and communication between residents and the agricultural community.
She said the proposed bylaw would have real estate brokers present information to prospective buyers that Belchertown is a farming community.
“Basically, what your talking about is people moving from the cities who may get here thinking, ‘moved to Belchertown because of its rural setting, but I didn’t expect to smell manure.” said Reardon.
Adzima added that would include tractors driving down the roads and other farming activities that are part of the town’s character. The proposed bylaw would be in addition to and not a change current zoning bylaws in Belchertown.
The second part of the bylaw would settle disputes through mediation or other means. Adzima said the commission would be more than willing to provide the parties with information to resolve disputes. But, she added, the Agricultural Commission does not have to be the first stop to settle matters
The Agricultural Commission meets on the 3rd Tuesday of the Month. A public hearing has been tabled by the board for Tuesday, April 21 on the proposed bylaw. Because Patriots Day falls on a Monday, the scheduled April 20 Belchertown Board of Selectmen meeting will be held the following day.
Tractor Supply Company Fuel Storage Hearing
Libby Baird, the Store Manager for Tractor Supply Company, appeared before the board of selectmen for a fuel storage hearing. Selectman Jim Barry recused himself from the discussions, as he has a relative who is employed by the store.
The Tractor Supply Company, located at 20 Turkey Hill Rd., opened for business last month. Recently, the company applied for a fuels storage license that would hold 3500 gallons of welding gas or propane.
Baird said the license is needed mostly for propane heating as the current tank holds 2000 gallons. Because the store’s forklifts also operate on propane, the store needs the additional capacity. The tank would be above ground and would be located behind the store.
Chairman Michael Reardon asked for public input, but none was offered. The board, as Barry sat in the gallery, approved the license for an above ground fuel storage area.
Appointed Senior Center Supportive Day Assistant
The selectmen approved the appointment of Johanna Melenie Bessette to the Senior Center as a Supportive Day Assistant.
She has worked with the Council on Aging since 2005 as home-delivered meals driver, a temporary nutrition assistant and, most recently, as a grant-funded outreach assistant. The position would be effective immediately.
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