Letter to the editor: ACTR chief explains Middlebury bus stop changes

I’m writing on behalf of our neighbors, friends and family who depend on public transportation to access the same places we all want and need. Who rides the bus? Everyone — bus riders span every age and socio-economic background. Some may be well off and choose to curb their cars while most others have no other options due to economics or disability.
The recent move of the ACTR Transfer Hub to Academy Street for the Downtown Rail Project significantly impacted walkability and access to downtown locations for riders, many of whom are elderly or have mobility issues. This impact required the Town and ACTR to find a new solution to safely continue meeting the Federal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VI (protecting Civil Rights). Given the new limitations within the downtown caused by the Rail Project, it was determined the safest location to meet the accessibility and service requirements was on Main Street near the Post Office.
Town and ACTR officials both understood that meeting the needs of the transit-dependent population would further impact parking spots in the downtown. However, they also recognized that, just as the Town had to maintain its handicapped-accessible parking spots during the Rail Project, it had the same legal and moral responsibility to maintain transit access. The decision was not made lightly.
We have heard, however, that some people feel our buses should stop in the street, rather than pull off to the side. We respectfully disagree. National studies have consistently shown that bus pull-offs at busy locations are safer for everyone, whether pedestrians, car drivers or bus riders. Stopping in a travel lane, while possible, increases the risk of accident for all travelers.
The accommodation made by ACTR to use the travel lane during December was made with the intention for extreme diligence and a limited period to reduce risk. The temporary holiday configuration put the stop on the St. Stephen’s side behind parked cars. As we feared, this poor sight line led many riders to wait on the opposite side of the street and then attempt to hurry across both lanes of traffic when they saw the bus approaching. That situation was unsafe, disruptive to traffic flow and frustrating for car drivers. Thankfully, with diligence by all, we avoided any unfortunate incidents. Going forward and over the longer duration of the Rail Project, it is imperative ACTR pull out of the travel lane.
Compounding the issue is the fact that so many community members put the greater safety and accessibility issues after their own individual needs. We have observed able-bodied drivers put own their needs ahead of others by parking in the bus stops and handicapped parking places at that location. Their actions exhibit a sense of entitlement to “just pull in for a minute,” ignoring the needs of the intended users. Unfortunately, this behavior happens nearly every day with no enforcement consequences. The “marginalized” transit users and disabled drivers, who are inconvenienced and have their safety compromised, are often less equipped to speak up about it. Rather, the loudest voices we hear are saying, “those people can walk, parking here is more important.”
We are all frustrated by the compromises forced upon us in the short term by the Rail Project. While drivers have lost parking spots, the consequences for transit users have been longer rides, less frequent options and multiple changes of the Hub location. But we will all do better with increased understanding and cooperation. If we encourage more people to access downtown by bus, we can alleviate more of the downtown congestion and pressure on parking spots. We are one community, and all of us are deserving of consideration.
Jim Moulton,
Executive Director Tri-Valley Transit, doing business as ACTR

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