Carless in the Pioneer Valley: A PVTA Cheat Sheet

For many students, riding the PVTA can be a daunting and confusing task. Contributing Writer Neil Kapur ’25 breaks down how to use the public transit system step-by-step, including where the bus goes, when it runs, and tools that can help simplify the experience for riders.

Carless in the Pioneer Valley: A PVTA Cheat Sheet
Free for Five College students and many employees, the PVTA bus system has lines to hot spots like the Hampshire and Holyoke Malls, UMass, and Northampton. Graphic courtesy of Nina Aagaard ’26.

Whether you are a first year or a carless upperclassman, traversing the Pioneer Valley might seem challenging without a motor vehicle. Fortunately, the PVTA, our local bus system, can take you to many destinations in the area, including local shopping centers, the other four colleges in the consortium, and nearby towns and cities. As navigating a bus system can be intimidating, especially to those who have never taken a public bus before, we’ve assembled this guide for any readers who have little to no experience riding the PVTA.

When planning a trip on the PVTA, or any public transit system, there are a few pieces of information you should gather ahead of time: where you will catch the bus and at what time, the bus number and direction, the bus fare and how you can pay it, and the stop you will disembark at. Here, we provide some of this information and the tools you can use to find the rest. If you find yourself overwhelmed, worry not! The tools we mention at the end can provide all the information you need.

Where Does the PVTA Go?

The PVTA serves large parts of Western Massachusetts, including Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, Northampton, and of course, Amherst. Whether you need to get to class at one of the other five colleges, catch a train in Northampton or Springfield, or run an errand at Hadley or Holyoke Mall, there should be a bus that can get you there. The PVTA operates over 40 routes, with about a dozen serving the Amherst area. Below, we highlight the main routes that you might find useful.

  • The B43 travels between Northampton and the college. From Amherst, it first heads north to UMass Amherst, and then west towards Smith and Northampton, stopping at various points along the way in Hadley, including Hampshire Mall.
  • The 38 bus travels between Mount Holyoke and UMass. From the college, you can take it north to UMass or south to Hampshire, Atkins Farm, and Mount Holyoke.
  • The 31 bus travels between South Amherst and Sunderland. From the Amherst Common stop, you can take it north to UMass and North Amherst or south towards The Boulders apartments.
  • The 33 bus travels between Stop and Shop and Puffers Pond. From the Jones Library stop, you can take it north to UMass, North Amherst, and Puffer’s Pond or west to Big Y and Stop and Shop.
  • The R29 bus travels between Springfield Union Station and UMass. From the Amherst Common stop, you can take it north to UMass Amherst or South to Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Holyoke Mall, and Springfield Union station.
  • The 30 bus travels between UMass and the eastern side of Amherst. From the Churchill St. stop (near Plimpton, Tyler, and Marsh), you can take it north to UMass. From the Town Hall stop, you can take it eastward along Main St. and Belchertown Road up to Old Belchertown Road.
  • The B79 travels between UMass and Worcester. From the Amherst Common stop, you can take it east to Worcester, with stops at towns along the way. This bus only operates on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. From Worcester, you can take the MBTA commuter rail train to Boston.

Every bus can travel in two directions, so it is  important to not only know which bus route you are taking, but also in what direction you are heading. On the front of the bus, you will find the route number and the final destination, which indicates the direction. For example, if you are at the college’s stop, buses heading north towards UMass will say “38 UMass Haigis Mall” while buses heading south towards Hampshire and Mount Holyoke will say “38 Mount Holyoke College.” If you are unsure if a bus is heading to your destination, you can always confirm with the driver as you board.

Where and When Can I Catch the Bus?

A map of the bus stops close to Amherst’s campus. Map courtesy of Amherst College.

After you know which bus you would like to take, you should determine where you will catch that bus. There are a number of stops by the college where you can board a bus. All are marked with a PVTA sign and/or bus stop shelter. The closest stop to the college is near Converse Hall, and is on the corner of College Street and Boltwood Avenue. From there, you can catch the B43 and 38 buses.

The next closest is the Amherst Common stop, located near Hitchcock Residence Hall. This is the same stop where you can catch the Peter Pan bus. From there, you can take the B43, R29, 31, 38, and B79 buses. If you head into town, near Jones Library you can catch the 33 bus. Finally, near Tyler, Plimpton, and Marsh, on the intersection between Churchill Street and Main Street, you can catch the 30 bus heading north to UMass. In the alternate direction, going towards eastern Amherst from UMass, the 30 bus stops near Amherst Town Hall.

As mentioned previously, each bus can travel in one of two directions. If you are traveling from a stop off a main road, such as the college’s, UMass Haigis Mall, or Hampshire Mall stops, then buses traveling in both directions will generally stop at the same place. You should pay attention to the front of the bus to determine you are getting on the correct bus. Otherwise, if you are catching the bus from a street, such as the Amherst Common stop, then there will generally be two locations where you can catch the bus on either side of the street. The direction buses travel depends on which side of the street you are on. From a stop, if you turn your head right, that is the direction the bus will be traveling. If you want to travel in the opposite direction, you should cross the street (if there is a safe place to cross) and locate the stop on that side of the road. For example, if you are at the Amherst Common stop, and want to catch a bus towards UMass, when you turn your head right, you should be facing the Amherst town as that is the direction of UMass. There are a few stops that deviate from this rule. In some cases, the bus traveling in the alternate direction may stop at a parallel street nearby or a few blocks away. In those cases, the to-be-mentioned planning tools will come in handy.  

What is the Bus Fare and How Can I Pay It?

For the most part, you will not need to pay a fare when riding the PVTA during the academic year. A large number of routes are subsidized by the Five Colleges, with some being fare-free year round.

As a general rule of thumb, if you are riding a bus route without a letter in front of it (more specifically routes 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 45, and 46), then you will never need to pay a fare. While these routes are part of the PVTA system and use PVTA buses, they are operated by UMass Transit Services and are free for all five college students and employees year-round, including the summer. You can simply board the bus and head to your destination.

The B43 and R29 are also free for five college students and employees during the academic school year. To board these buses, you must show your student ID to the driver. If you do not have your ID with you, are taking the B43 or R29 during spring or summer break, or are taking any other PVTA bus (e.g. G73E, B48, P21, etc.), you will need to pay $1.50, which is the current adult fare as of October 2023. You can pay with cash or by downloading the MassDOT BusPlus app on your phone.

Finally, the B79 uses a different fare system, with the amount you pay dependent on your destination. For example, a trip to Worcester costs $9. The specific fares are listed on the PVTA website and on the MassDOT BusPlus app.

What Time Can I Catch The Bus? Where Should I Get off the Bus? What Tools Can Help?

If you have made it up to here, this is a lot of information to take in. Fortunately, there are a few tools at your disposal that can tell you when and where to catch the bus, which bus you should take, and where to get off the bus.

The first tool is a mobile application called Transit (yes, that is its name, and it has a green logo). When you open the app, it displays which bus routes are closest to you, which stop they depart from, and when the next bus will arrive. You also have the ability to plan a trip by entering an origin and destination. The app will then tell you which bus(es) you need to take to get there, what time you can catch them, and where to get on and off.

Likewise, you can also use Google Maps, and select the transit feature when searching for directions. If you are using your computer, it might be worth exploring the surroundings of your departure and arrival stops with the street view feature.

Finally, on the PVTA website, you can find alerts about any schedule changes or delays, and timetables and route maps for each bus route.

How to Ride the Bus?

Once you have gathered all the necessary information, you should be all set to start your trip. If you have taken public transportation in any other major city, riding the PVTA is similar to any other public bus. However, for those who are new to public transit, I will recount a recent bus trip to show what riding the bus is like and things you should keep in mind.

I recently attended a career fair at UMass so I had to take a bus to get there. The fair was supposed to start at 12 p.m. so I decided to walk to the Amherst College stop around 11:35 am to catch a bus to UMass. Both the B43 and 38 stop here, so I thought I would catch whichever comes first. One note I will add is that you should arrive at a bus stop at least 5 minutes before your bus is scheduled to depart. This is because at times, a bus may arrive and leave early.

The B43 and B38 bus lines can both be taken from the Amherst College Stop, located by Converse Hall.

According to the Google Maps app, the next 38 bus towards UMass was scheduled to arrive at 11:40 a.m. The app also told me which bus to look for: the 38 bus with destination UMass Haigis Mall (which is underlined in red in the screenshot I took). Theoretically, as the bus approached, I should have confirmed that the front display read “38 UMass Haigis Mall”, matching the information the app provided me.

Google Maps delineates stops, times, and lines for the PVTA bus system.

However, since I was in a rush, and I saw a 38 bus approaching just as I got to the stop, I hopped on without checking. Then as the bus left the college and turned south, I realized I was on the wrong 38 bus. It was heading to Mount Holyoke instead of UMass Haigis Mall, which the front display would have told me, but I was, well, overconfident as an experienced rider. At first, I was disappointed in myself, but then I realized this would be a good addition to this guide. It is inevitable that at some point, you, the reader, may board the wrong bus. What should you do in this situation?

I decided to get off at the next stop but first, I had to make sure the bus would stop. Public buses do not stop at every single stop. They only stop when there is a rider waiting at the stop to get on, or if someone on the bus signals that they would like to get off. To signal to the driver that you would like to get off, you should either yank a yellow cord that wraps around the edge of the bus near the windows, or press a red “Stop” button located near the doors. If you are not sure when the bus will approach your destination, I highly recommend following the route on your app, and once the bus departs or passes the stop before yours, you should be ready to signal to the driver that your stop is next.

To signal to the bus driver that you would like to get off, riders can pull the yellow cord that hangs from the windows. Photo courtesy of Neil Kapur ’25.
Alternatively, riders can push the red “stop” button if they wish to get off the bus. Photo courtesy of Neil Kapur ’25.

Since the bus was going south, and I had to go north, I got off the bus and crossed the street In cases where it is not safe to cross, or you are unable to locate the correct stop, you should either use a mobile app to get directions or wait for the next bus to arrive at the stop you got off at and ask the driver where you can catch a bus in the opposite direction. Luckily for me, I saw a 31 bus approaching, which also goes to UMass. I waved to the driver to signal that I wanted to get on the bus.

Many PVTA bus lines are free with the use of an Amherst College student ID. Photo courtesy of Neil Kapur ’25.

I then took the 31 bus to the Morrill Science Center stop at UMass. It is worth noting that UMass is large so different buses stop at different points around the campus. Your handy travels apps can tell you which bus will get you closest to where you need to be.

The PVTA bus system is an easy, accessible, and affordable way to get around. Photo courtesy of Neil Kapur ’25.

After a fruitful career fair, I returned to the same stop (though across the street from where I got off), and boarded the 30 bus heading towards Old Belchertown Road (the eastern part of Amherst). I disembarked at the Town Hall stop, which is located across the street from Insomnia Cookies and LimeRed.

The Town Hall stop is conveniently located in the center of town. Photo courtesy of Claire Beougher ’26.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Any transit system can be confusing for new riders, including the PVTA. Therefore, if you have any questions about which bus is the right one to catch or where you should get off, feel free to ask a driver when the bus is not in motion or, in situations where you feel comfortable, a fellow friendly rider.