ACTR ridership soars; new upgrades planned

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) is cruising into the fall with record ridership numbers, a revitalized bus fleet and a plan to give customers real-time updates on the timeliness of its bus runs.
The county’s public transportation organization released figures last week showing its fleet of 16 buses had dispensed a combined total of 156,000 rides during the 12 months preceding June 30, 2011. That’s 22-percent higher than ACTR’s previous record year, officials said.
James Moulton, ACTR’s executive director, could not be reached for comment as the Addison Independent went to press. Dean George, chairman of the ACTR board, credited last year’s expansion of bus services (by 40 percent), along with high gas prices, as among the reasons for the surge in ridership. And ACTR has been able to keep a lot of those riders once they have experienced the convenience of the service, George added.
“(Ridership) has exceeded our expectations,” George said.
ACTR currently operates a Middlebury in-town shuttle; a Tri-Town Shuttle connecting Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes via New Haven Center; and its Snow Bowl Shuttle Bus from Middlebury through Ripton and to the Middlebury College ski slopes in Hancock. The organization is also a partner in two out-of-county bus runs: the Burlington Link Express and Rutland Connector.
George noted that the Vermont Agency of Transportation recently awarded ACTR grant money to help pay for five new buses. Three of those replacement vehicles are already on the road and two more are on the way. The new buses include such features as bike racks, child restraint seats, electronic destination signs and seat belts. They are also accessible to people with disabilities.
Public transportation doesn’t come cheaply, so ACTR is seeking new revenue streams to generate the 20 percent local match required for most of the state and federal grants it receives. With that in mind, the organization is seeking to expand opportunities for businesses to “underwrite spaces” — in other words, advertise — on bus shelters, buses and on the ACTR Website.
The organization is also investing in new technology to keep riders better informed of bus times. Specifically, the bus shelter at Merchants Row in Middlebury will soon be equipped with an electronic sign that will provide instant rider alerts. Travelers can currently receive updates through Facebook, Twitter and a news ticker feature on ACTR’s revitalized website. The website also boasts Google Transit trip planning, carbon and fuel savings calculators and other useful information.
The organization also recently received grant money to fund 90 percent of two new bus shelters. Pending local approval and the required 10-percent match, a shelter will be built at the new park-and-ride space near New Haven’s town hall. Another shelter is being planned, in partnership with Middlebury College, at the busy stop at Adirondack Circle in Middlebury.
“Eventually we will have electronic signs at these shelters to provide instant rider alerts,” reads ACTR’s August newsletter.
In terms of long-range plans, ACTR plans to break ground in March 2012 on a new headquarters off Creek Road. Officials would like to see the facility open the following November, to symbolically coincide with the organization’s 20th anniversary.
George expects the demand for ACTR services will only grow during the coming years.
“People are much more aware of public transportation than they used to be,” George said. “We have received an incredible demand to extend service to other areas, but we don’t yet have the ability to do it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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