Op/Ed

Faith Gong: Beautiful Things: Tri-Valley Transit

TRI-VALLEY TRANSIT buses in Middlebury
Independent photo/Steve James

For those who observe the Christian liturgical calendar, we are right in the midst of Lent. The Lenten season involves 40 days of preparation before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on the sundown of Holy Thursday. Lent is typically observed by reflection, repentance, and fasting, often characterized by a “giving up” of something. For instance, this year my eldest daughter gave up Starbucks (motivated, I suspect, less by the condition of her soul than by the condition of her wallet after buying $7 drinks post-school.)

This year, I’m observing Lent by taking something on as opposed to giving something up. The two practices are two sides of the same coin, really, since taking something on usually involves sacrificing precious time. What I’ve taken on is noticing one beautiful thing each day: anything that makes the world a little more beautiful. I record it in writing, and I’m compiling my daily reflections on beautiful things in a “Book of Beauty” for my family. It’s been a fun, enlightening, and sometimes challenging exercise.

I’ve decided to do something similar in this column: a series in which I highlight the beautiful things in our little corner of Vermont. After a season in which I delved into the difficult issues of middle age, change, and raising teenagers, perhaps it’s time for something a bit more hopeful — especially as we approach mud season after a particularly grey winter, as we approach the upheaval and unpleasantness of an election year, as we continue to grapple with the bad news of the world. You get the picture: We could all use a little beauty. 

I’m going to begin with one of my favorite beautiful “secrets” of Addison County: Tri-Valley Transit (TVT.) Formerly known as ACTR, TVT was formed in 2017 when the public transportation systems of Addison, Orange, and Northern Windsor counties merged. It exists as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, funded by an 80/20 mix of state and federal grants and private donations. The mission of TVT is “to enhance the economic, social and environmental health of the communities we serve by providing public transportation services for everyone that are safe, reliable, accessible and affordable.”

I first encountered TVT when my two oldest children began attending a middle school in Ripton, about 30 minutes up the mountain. We were delighted to learn that TVT ran a weekday bus route between downtown Middlebury and the school. I’d seen white TVT buses around town for years, taking people around downtown Middlebury and between various Addison County towns, but I had no idea that they would take students to school. And, amazingly, the service was free! 

We have now sent three of our children to school on a TVT bus almost every weekday for three years. This year, I became the school’s volunteer bus coordinator, acting as a go-between for TVT and the school families who use it. Barely a day goes by when I’m not deeply grateful for this gift to our community. 

Not only does the TVT bus take my children to and from school on time every day for free, but they work around the school’s schedule. Vacation? Early closing? They’re on top of it. When the entire school went for a hike on the Long Trail, the TVT bus dropped the kids at the trailhead; when the entire school has play rehearsals at the Ripton Community House, the bus will drop off and pick up accordingly. 

One horrible day I missed the last-minute email about a delayed opening due to weather and learned about it only when another mom called to ask about bus service. As I started to panic because my children had been dropped off at the bus stop already (and had forgotten their cell phone at home, of course), several things happened that made me so thankful for our community. First, I got a phone call from Ilsley Youth Librarian Tricia Allen: My children had boarded the bus, but partway up to school the TVT driver learned of the delay and turned around rather than drop them at a locked school building. He let them use his phone to call me; when I didn’t pick up, they had walked to the library and used Tricia’s phone to reach me. Once I knew they were safe, I got on the phone to TVT and inquired about a delayed pickup. “Let’s see what we can do,” said the dispatcher, and promptly arranged a route that would get everyone to school on time.

On yet another day with a delayed school start, TVT beat me to it: As my husband and I were scrambling to figure out how to get our kids to their schools when various roads were closed due to downed trees and power lines, the phone rang. It was the wonderful Mary-Claire Crogan, my main contact at TVT. “We heard that schools are delayed,” she said. “Would you like us to run a later bus up to the school?”

My children love riding the TVT bus: It gives them the chance to spend an extra 30 minutes with friends before and after school, and they have also developed relationships with the bus drivers. They know the drivers by name: Scott is a favorite, as are brothers Dino and Yasmin.  Often at the dinner table, they’ll share facts about various drivers — their life history, the music they like to play, how they keep order on the bus rides. Can you imagine driving ten middle schoolers 30 minutes up and down a mountain twice a day? These drivers are heroes. 

Our children’s school is not the only local school that benefits from TVT’s services: The company runs a bus route up and down Route 7 every school day, dropping students off at several schools between Middlebury and Burlington. They run another route out to schools in Bristol. When my eldest daughter was beginning high school in Burlington, I contacted Mary-Claire at TVT and asked about the possibility of a bus route for her. In less than a day, like the transportation genie she is, Mary-Claire had put together a route that would take my daughter an hour north to school. 

I suspect that for most small towns in rural states, services like those offered by TVT — for everyone, free of charge — are not the norm. Almost nowhere is the bend-over-backwards kindness of the TVT staff the norm. It feels like a little miracle every day. 

If you’d like to donate to TVT and support their mission of free public transportation, you can do so here.

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and two quirky dogs. In her “free time,” she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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