Advocates urge SRTA to expand public transportation options

By Kevin P. O’Connor

Sundays were always a problem, Sandra Cunningham said.

“People work on Sunday,” Cunningham said. “I worked a job from Sunday to Thursday. When I couldn’t get a ride, I had to walk from Middle Street to President Avenue or I had to take a taxi, which was expensive.”

And she was not the only person to be inconvenienced by the city’s public transportation schedule. Buses in Fall River stop at 6 p.m. every day and do not run on Sunday.

“We need to extend public transportation,” Cunningham said.

That was the message of a rally Wednesday at Government Center.

Advocates gathered to ask the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority to offer service at night and on Sunday, and to push Congress to fund it.

The Coalition for Social Justice, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and Bus Riders United gathered in the Fall River Room at city hall to spread the word. Rallies were held in other cities around the country on Tuesday to push Congress to increase funding for mass transit.

More about the campaign can be found on the website,

“This is part of a larger campaign to get Congress to properly fund public transit,” said Eric Carvalho, president and business agent for the ATU.

The ATU and the Coalition for Social Justice have been collecting signatures from area residents through the summer, asking SRTA and Congress to extend the hours the buses run in Fall River and New Bedford.

Increased service was the most common request voiced to coalition volunteers who rode the buses all summer on the SRTA lines, organizers said.

“In Brockton and in the Berkshires the buses run after 6 p.m.,” said Marlene Pollock of the Coalition for Social Justice. “There really is no excuse for us to not do that.”

Fred Senay, a Fall River resident, rides the bus because he decided years ago to live without a car.

“I enjoy riding the bus,” Senay said. “I do it by choice. It is really interesting.
“I’ve spoke with a lot of people about this. A lot of people told me they couldn’t get hired, that they couldn’t work overtime, that they couldn’t work Sundays because of transportation problems.

“Public transportation is the lifeblood of our city. We need more, not less.”
Part of the gathering Wednesday was sparked by calls in Congress to cut federal subsidies to transportation projects by 30 percent.

That proposal was knocked down, but only for the next six months. The issue will rise again when budget talks resume in the spring, said Carvalho, the transit union official.

Mayor Will Flanagan said he called the city’s U.S. representatives, James McGovern and Barney Frank, to push them to support funding for public transportation.

“I’ve spoken to so many people who want to take night courses at BCC (Bristol Community College) and UMass Dartmouth, but they simply can’t because they can’t get transportation,” Flanagan said. “We have to keep pressure on our public officials to make sure they know public transportation is not an area they can cut.”

That is a message he hears often while riding the bus, Senay said.
“The city continues to run and our lives continue to run at night and on Sundays,” Senay said. “The buses should continue to run, too.”

This story originally appeared in The Herald News on September 22, 2011 and is available here: