ACTR set to merge with Stagecoach; pluses seen

MIDDLEBURY — An impending merger between Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) and Randolph’s Stagecoach Transportation Services won’t affect current local bus routes, but it is expected to pay substantial future dividends for the county’s public transportation company and the people it employs and serves.
Specifically, the merger with Stagecoach — which provides transportation to residents in Orange County and the northern part of Windsor County — will create economies of scale that should drive down the future costs of new buses and equipment, according to ACTR Executive Director Jim Moulton.
Moreover, a consolidated ACTR and Stagecoach will give both operations more clout in advocating for new and/or expanded bus routes in the future, according to ACTR board President Adam Lougee. The organization can now tout itself as providing public transportation from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River.
“The (transition) will be seamless, as far as riders are concerned,” Lougee said on Tuesday. “And (the merger) may give us the ability to expand services in the future.”
Plans call for the merger — which is not expected to result in any job cuts — to be finalized this summer, according to Moulton.
ACTR and Stagecoach need little introduction.
In early 2014 that the Vermont Agency of Transportation asked ACTR to manage Stagecoach when its executive director stepped down. ACTR staff pitched in to make sure Stagecoach services continued uninterrupted during its leadership vacuum.
The arrangement has worked well, officials said.
Three years later, Stagecoach has seen improved services, increased ridership and greater financial stability, according to Moulton.
And it has also given both nonprofits more administrative stability.
It used to be that Moulton was the daily go-to guy at ACTR for everything from budget planning to trouble-shooting problems on a particular route. Now, with a combined total of 55 workers at the two agencies, someone is almost always available to step up when a colleague is on vacation or leaves for another job.
“There is better management depth,” Moulton said. “It’s creating less risk for both entities.”
Having a larger combined staff has also allowed ACTR and Stagecoach to provide more of its administration in-house. For example, the two operations now have a shared trainer of drivers and shared human resources and accounting staff. Each organization — were they still operating independently — would probably not be able afford full-time human services and driver trainers, according to Moulton.
“We now have one set of financial reports, one audit and one monthly meeting,” Moulton said.
ACTR and Stagecoach recently joined forces on a purchasing plan for more that 10 buses over the next five years that will save the organization around $10,000 per vehicle, according to Moulton. Stagecoach has a fleet of 24 buses, while ACTR now has 18.
“You have more leverage opportunities,” Moulton said. “It’s easier to do as a larger entity.”
Stagecoach celebrated 40 years of service in 2016, while ACTR marked its 25th in 2017.
ACTR provides around 180,000 rides per year through six bus routes, including connections to Rutland and Burlington. The organization also has a Dial-a-Ride system that provides rides to elderly, disabled and Medicaid-eligible residents, as well as members of other vulnerable populations, to medical services, work, grocery stores and meal sites.
Stagecoach also offers Dial-a-Ride and operates eight bus routes serving 29 communities throughout Central Vermont and the Upper Valley. Stagecoach provides about 85,000 rides per year.
In other recent ACTR news, the company recently ramped up itsmid-day service on the Tri-Town Shuttle Bus between Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes routes. The shuttle was not as active at mid-day, reflecting ridership trends. But riders, through a survey last year, asked for more continuity of service throughout the day, Moulton said.
Lougee believes ACTR will continue to prosper by formalizing its affiliation with Stagecoach.
“We see it as a net positive to the region and the services ACTR provides,” Lougee said, adding, “By operating together, we might be able to promote some east-west connectivity between the organizations.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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