By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — With signs and chants of “Sunday Service Now!” members of Bus Riders United (BRU) recently braved the cold outside the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) offices here and in Fall River to demand Sunday bus service.
“On Sundays, we’re stranded,” said Siggy Meilus, BRU coordinator. “If you have to work on Sundays, you can’t get to work unless you take a cab.”
That concern was echoed by Edwin Riveira of Hands Across the River Coalition, a nonprofit environmental organization that supports the effort. Riveira cited the need for Sunday service so people could get to work and to church services.
“There’s a lot of good reasons why Sunday bus service is needed,” he said. Riveira cited the disproportionate cost of getting to work on Sundays for those workers who need bus service but aren’t getting it.
“It takes up most of their pay to get to get back and forth to work on Sundays,” he said. “And if they don’t go to work, they get fired.”
Albert Miguel, who has been driving a Yellow Cab in New Bedford for 10 years, said it costs about $11 to $12 to take a cab from the SRTA station downtown to the Dartmouth Mall, more if the fare gets stuck in traffic. The first mile costs $4.25, and then it costs $2.50 per mile after that. To travel to the Trucchi’s supermarket on Acushnet Avenue in the North End from downtown costs $17.
Meilus presented SRTA administrator Erik Rosseau 1,800 signatures on a petition demanding Sunday service, so those without a car could get to work, to religious services and to grocery stores.
BRU is hoping to repeat its victory earlier this year, when it won evening service for workers and others who rely on the bus service. After receiving petitions last spring, SRTA changed a total of eight routes to run until 9 p.m.
Rosseau, who attended the Nov. 20 BRU rally, said with the new evening service, October ridership was at 228,000 riders, up 51,000 riders over the same month last year. He accepted the petitions, saying he would try to get Sunday service as funding became available.
“SRTA is working with the state legislators and MassDOT to get grants and funding from other sources,” Rousseau said. He said there also is a funding need for additional hours for more routes.
Last month, SRTA received a one-time payment of $4.5 million in state funding for fiscal 2014 as part of a new bookkeeping system. Previously, the state reimbursed regional transit authorities, which incurred borrowing and interest costs. In the future, SRTA will receive state funds closer to real time, Rosseau said. The balance of SRTA’s $16 million operating and capital budget for this year is paid for by the federal government.
However, the state did give SRTA an additional $500,000 this year, which is being used to cover the extended evening hours, Rosseau said.
Joe Dias remembers using Sunday bus service in the 1970s to get to work at Southeastern Massachusetts University, which is now the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
“It kept me in school,” Dias said. “It helped keep me in college and let me finish.”
Between 1973 and 1978, Dias used the bus to get to his campus job whenever his car broke down, which he said was pretty often. Without a way to get to work, he wouldn’t have been able to pay for school.
A shuttle now runs between the main campus and the Star Store campus downtown on Saturdays and Sundays, but the service is limited. The “Loop” makes two trips in the afternoon and two in the evening, according to the university website.
“It’s good for the public, but it’s killing the cabs,” said Miguel as he was parked at the New Bedford SRTA station. “When [bus service] closed at six p.m., we could make a living. Now they don’t even look twice at us.”
And Sunday bus service?
“Look at us now,” Miguel said, pointing to the row of cabs at 7:30 p.m. waiting for fares. “It’ll put us out of business.”