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Wagner, selectmen to take action on PVTA issues

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Local officials are acting in the wake of the recent death of a local man dropped off at the wrong house by the Dial-A-Ride service provided by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA).

State Representative Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee), chair of the House Transportation Committee, called the PVTA an "agency in chaos and crisis" and added, "When the heat gets turned up so high they (the PVTA Advisory Board) react instead of act."

Wagner has long been critical of the administration of the state's second largest mass transit provider and conducted a press conference Monday morning to announce he has filed legislation that would alter how the PVTA administrator is selected. Wagner's bill would do away with the weighted vote that put current Administrator Mary MacInnes into that position without a majority of the Advisory Board supporting her.

Under the current rules, the votes cast by larger communities, such as Springfield and Chicopee, carry more weight than smaller towns.

Wagner also said that any expenditure approved by the PVTA Advisory Board should be also approved as well by the Secretary of Transportation.

He said he has examined the eight-page contract between the PVTA and MV transportation that operates the Dial-A-Ride service and found there is no provision for measuring the performance of the MV service and its employees.

Wagner expressed his condolences to the family of Joseph Fopiano of East Longmeadow. On March 20, Fopiano was injured when he was dropped off at a house in Longmeadow instead of his own home. The injuries resulted in his death.

Wagner said, that to his knowledge, the administration of the PVTA has not extended any statement of sympathy to the Fopiano family.

The East Longmeadow Board of Selectmen passed a no confidence vote in both the management of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) and in its dial-a-ride providers MV Transportation at an emergency meeting on March 30.

Selectman Chair James Driscoll said the Board's next step is to contact the Attorney General to request a review of the incidents that led to a resident's death and the Department of Transportation for an independent audit of the PVTA and MV Transportation.

He is also contacting Mayors Charles Ryan of Springfield and Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee to request the issue be brought to the PVTA Board.

"This is not a witch hunt," Driscoll told Reminder Publications. "We're looking for accountability."

Driscoll said he has not received a telephone call back from PVTA officials except from PVTA Board Chair Richard Theroux who accused Driscoll of "grandstanding" by requesting the meeting.

Driscoll said he would have been happy to meet in executive session if it had given him and Selectman Jack Villamaino the opportunity to talk with PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes about the incident.

Selectman Joe Townsend, while in Town Hall at the time of the meeting, did not attend it.

The Board requested the PVTA and MV managers to attend the informational meeting. In a letter faxed to the Board the day before the meeting, PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes declined to attend the meeting until an internal investigation into Fopiano's death is completed. East Longmeadow seniors expressed their concerns about the van service to Driscoll at a meeting on Thursday at the town's senior center.

"Seniors are scared to get onto the van," Driscoll said.

About 15 people attended the meeting, several of whom rely on the van service provided by MV Transportation. Eolo Bartolomei of East Longmeadow recounted how it took hours for the van driver to return him to his home after a dialysis treatment. Bartolomei became ill in the van because of the delay.

Sally Dodge of Belchertown told Driscoll and Villamaino that she relies on MV Transportation to get her to her job at Stravos, an agency that advocates for independent living for the disabled. She charged that drivers have sexually harassed female passengers and that MV drivers have violated the civil rights of passengers.

"What is it going to take to get together and get rid of MV Transportation? She asked.

Martina Robinson, also of Belchertown, testified at the meeting about an incident that stranded her in Chicopee for six-and-a-half hours. Robinson, who uses a wheelchair, was the Green Party candidate for lieutenant governor in the last election and said that if MV Transportation had been the service provider during the campaign, she couldn't have run for office relying on them for van service.

Raymond Jarrett of Chicopee, a van driver for East Longmeadow employed by Hulmes Transportation, said he had driven Fopiano. He explained that Hulmes had a policy that if a passenger wanted to be dropped off at an address other than their own, the dispatcher had to contact a family member for confirmation.

Jarrett said the PVTA and MV were "not here because they know they're wrong."

Staff intern Dan Cooper contributed to this story.