VTrans funds microtransit programs

With the support of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, on-demand microtransit programs will launch next year in Middlebury and four other communities across the state.

Middlebury, Barre, Manchester, Morrisville and Windsor will join Montpelier in piloting free ride-hailing as an alternative or supplement to more traditional forms of public transportation.

“At the end of this two- or three-year pilot period, we would then have a pretty good idea as to where best microtransit fits the Vermont model,” said Ross MacDonald, public transit program manager at VTrans.

According to MacDonald, each town will implement the services differently: Barre hopes to use microtransit to complement current services; Middlebury will cut some bus routes, but not all; Manchester and Morrisville plan to replace all regular bus routes with microtransit; and Windsor currently lacks public transportation. 

In Montpelier, where Green Mountain Transit’s MyRide microtransit initiative began in January 2021, on-demand bus services have thus far been found to have some value, but Green Mountain Transit decided to reinstate a fixed route serving the Central Vermont Medical Center and Berlin Mall area.

The average MyRide trip costs the company $20.04, which is more costly than the bus system that existed before the pandemic, according to Jamie Smith, director of marketing and planning for Green Mountain Transit. Smith noted that the cost fluctuates.

Because MyRide and similar programs allow users to book rides using smartphones, technological barriers can inhibit older and low-income people from accessing the services, Sarah Lipton, executive director at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center, told VTDigger earlier this year. 

Rather than viewing microtransit as a rural transportation silver bullet, VTrans’s MacDonald said ride-hailing services will not necessarily best suit everyone. 

“It once again reminds us of the challenge of a one-size-fits-all model,” he said, “understanding that it’s going to be very difficult to get everybody where they need to get to when they need to get there under any scenario.”

Due to its novelty, community outreach and education plays a role in the implementation of microtransit. In Windsor, which currently lacks public transportation, Southeast Vermont Transit will host public forums to discuss the community’s goals for the program, according to CEO Randy Schoonmaker. 

A feasibility study completed this May predicted that Windsor’s one-bus microtransit program could expect 15 to 35 riders per day and an average wait time of 8 to 10 minutes for a ride. 

Southeast Vermont Transit expects to begin its Windsor microtransit program in January, making it likely the first of the towns to launch, according to MacDonald. 

Montpelier and the other towns — minus Middlebury, which is still working out the details — have received over $2 million total to support microtransit, MacDonald said.

“It’s a very flexible model. It’s something that’s getting tons of attention,” he said. “But it’s not a fait accompli that this is exactly how we should spend all of our transit funds.”

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