MA: Bus passes helped Amherst area residents get their feet on the ground, nonprofit says

MA: Bus passes helped Amherst area residents get their feet on the ground, nonprofit says
MA: Bus passes helped Amherst area residents get their feet on the ground, nonprofit says

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify the number of people who responded to the Craig’s Doors survey and to better reflect how the Fare Access Program is implemented.

Since Craig’s Doors began purchasing Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus passes to distribute to homeless and low-income people in March 2023, the company has distributed over 9,000 day passes and helped over 475 people.

And the results are in: According to a recent survey of passengers conducted by the non-profit organization, the lives of passengers have improved significantly thanks to the passes, as they can now find work, attend medical appointments and receive legal assistance.

In Amherst, Craig’s Doors, which has been providing emergency shelter and other resources to homeless adults in the Pioneer Valley for 13 years, launched a Fare Access Program – the first of its kind in Hampshire County.

The program allows Craig’s Doors to provide free Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus passes to homeless shelter guests and community members who depend on transportation.

“Free transit plays a huge role in helping low-income and marginalized people get back on their feet,” said Jack Myers, program director at Craig’s Doors. Myers said the transit authority has supported the program.

The agency released a report finding that the year-old program was a success with guests.

“People say this program has changed their lives,” Myers said. “Access to public transportation gives people the privacy, autonomy and safety they deserve.”

Between March and November last year, at least 340 people received a bus pass from Craig’s Doors. Of that number, 48 people completed a survey about the program: 16% said it helped them find a job; almost three-quarters said it impacted their housing search; and 20% said it helped them get to work.

The program also helped improve mental, physical and financial health, increased access to food and promoted access to social support, the report said.

“This program is an extremely important part of caring for our guests,” Myers said.

Funding for this program was provided by both the City of Amherst and the state.

In 2023, when the program began, Amherst’s Community Responders for Equity, Safety & Service division provided the agency with a $25,000 grant to provide bus passes to guests, Myers said.

Because of the program’s success, Democratic state Rep. Mindy Domb of Amherst allocated $40,000 from the state budget to help Craig’s Doors continue offering free rides to participants through the end of 2024, Myers said.

In addition to the transit program, Craig’s Doors offers a free community breakfast, showers, case management, tents and winter clothing, and clothing and laundry services.

To celebrate the PVTA’s 50th anniversary, the PVTA is offering free rides to all riders through August. Last week, the Pioneer Valley Project, a group that advocates for social change, also said it is committed to making the rides free permanently.

Last month, the Senate Budget Committee proposed in its fiscal year 2025 budget proposal that $40 million be spent to provide year-round fare-free access to public transit at all regional transit authorities across the state.

“Lower-income communities rely on public transportation to get where they need to go,” Myers said of funding free transit in the budget proposal. “It would be an investment in the community.”

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