ACTR seeks funds to boost bus service

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) will apply to the state for funding to expand its Tri-Town and Middlebury In-Town shuttle bus services.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (Vtrans) this year has a pool of $1.5 million to help expand public transit services statewide, according to ACTR Executive Director James Moulton. ACTR is hoping to successfully apply for a combined total of around $200,000 of that money to ramp up the frequency of stops on its In-Town shuttle — which serves Middlebury — as well as on its Tri-Town shuttle, which runs a loop serving Middlebury, Vergennes and Bristol.
The ACTR board is expected to hammer out the final details of its grant applications at its Friday, July 10 meeting. ACTR will be among 12 local transportation agencies statewide eligible to apply for the funds.
Moulton said ACTR riders have been asking for expanded in-town and Tri-town services, a sentiment backed up by a survey performed last year by Middlebury College students.
Students specifically polled Vergennes and Bristol residents about use of the Tri-Town service and their willingness to support it with tax dollars.
In Bristol, 36 percent of those surveyed said they had used the service and 52 percent indicated they would use it if the service expanded. Fifty-six percent indicated they support an increase in local taxes to help support expanded service.
In Vergennes, 19 percent of those polled said they had used the service and 34 percent said they would use it if the service expanded. Seventy-seven percent indicated they’d support an increase in city funding to help expand the service.
ACTR officials took notice, and have decided to try to meet the demand. The Middlebury In-Town shuttle delivered almost 45,000 rides during fiscal year 2009, which concluded on June 30. The Tri-Town shuttle dispensed almost 17,000 rides during that same time period, according to Moulton. Some county residents have also lobbied to have the Tri-Town shuttle make direct runs from Bristol to Middlebury and from Vergennes to Middlebury.
“The goal is to increase the frequency of the bus service so it becomes easier for people to use it,” Moulton said.
The Tri-Town shuttle is currently on a two-hour loop, a time lapse that officials hope to reduce to one hour. The In-Town shuttle currently makes stops every 90 minutes during non-peak hours and every 40 minutes during peak hours. ACTR officials would like to shorten those stop spans to 60 minutes during off-peak hours and 30 minutes during peak hours.
“We’d have to put additional buses on the road and we have the capacity to do that, in terms of vehicles,” Moulton said, noting the organization’s current fleet of 12 buses.
The added expense would therefore result from added drivers’ hours and increased fuel/maintenance for shuttle vehicles. Grant funding would last for three years, and would then be re-evaluated, according to Moulton. He said he is confident the expanded service would secure ongoing funding, citing the Middlebury-Rutland, Middlebury-Burlington and Snow Bowl bus services as examples of routes that were re-authorized on an ongoing basis after initial three-year trials.
The grant money requires a 20-percent local match, which the towns of Middlebury and Bristol have already covered through their Town Meeting Day appropriations for ACTR. A majority of Vergennes aldermen recently declined a request by ACTR to boost its annual support of the agency by another $3,750 (from the current $4,650). Dissenting aldermen cited, among other things, the lateness of the ACTR request vis a vis the city’s budgeting process and the opinion that tax dollars were not the proper funding source for the expanded service.
Moulton said the ACTR board will discuss the city council’s decision, and how to potentially overcome it, at its Friday meeting.
Grant applications are due at Vtrans in early August. If ACTR is awarded the money it is seeking, the new bus schedule could take effect as early as this November.

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