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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673
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Other towns chose alternatives to school-funded transportation

09/27/2007

By Lisa Loomis

In 2002 the Ludlow public school system informed the town (population 2,600, with 250 students) that it could no longer afford to run the school bus system. According to Ludlow municipal manager Frank Heald, the municipality discussed the issue and made the decision to buy the school buses and create a municipal transit system which is operated by the town.

The system provides morning and afternoon runs structured around school times, with routes structured around where kids live. The system is also operated as a public transportation system, bringing residents into and out of the village and surrounding towns.

"What we operate today is a municipal transit system. In the morning and the afternoon we go into the hinterlands and largely serve the school population and anyone who wants to come into the village center," Heald said.

"We operate another bus which makes five trips a day through the center of town and reaches up to the towns of Plymouth and Cavendish. And we operate a route with three trips a day to Springfield, which is timed for kids going to the technical school and also for people to go to the hospital and the shopping centers," he said.

The system is operated year round; in the summer it's well used by kids participating in recreation programs. When the school operated the bussing system it cost $800,000 a year, Heald said, and the town select board thought that similar service could be provided for much less, about $200,000.

"We looked at it and thought we could provide comparable service and also provide public transit to our community. The cost in 2006 was $264,000, in 2007 we budgeted $251,000 and for 2008 we budgeted $265,000. That's just operating costs. Our capital costs are in excess of that," Heald said.

He said the town had to purchase the school district's school buses and repaint them prior to starting. Ludlow's public transit system is not the type of public transit system which is available in The Valley. The Ludlow system does not receive state or federal funds.

The Valley's public transit system, provided by the Green Mountain Transit Authority (GMTA), receives state and federal funding, along with local contributions to provide transportation to the elderly, the disabled and those who meet income qualifications. Right now there is no general public transportation program in The Valley, although in the winter there is Mad Bus service (provided by the GMTA) which links Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen and provides service from Warren up and down the Sugarbush Access Road.

GMTA's ridership figures for 2006-2007 include people transported to and from meal site programs, medical appointments, etc. During that fiscal year GMTA provided 975 trips for the elderly and disabled and financially qualified. GMTA provided five Warren residents with transportation service to weekly senior meals programs and shopping trips during that time.

GMTA's total operating budget is $3.2 million. Of that, 61 percent is from federal funding, 23 percent is from state funding and 9 percent is from local funds. Local towns pay the following amounts: Waitsfield, $923; Fayston, $588; Moretown, $945; Duxbury, $775; Warren, $943.

Those figures are based on population and potential riders.

GMTA provides public commuter services in Waterbury, from Waterbury to Morrisville, and from Waterbury to Montpelier as well as from Montpelier to Burlington. There is no funding for commuter service from The Valley to Montpelier at present, according to Chris Cole, GMTA director.

He said that for two years in a row, GMTA has submitted a grant application seeking funding for a Valley commuter route, but it has not received funding. Such a commuter route is separate from the Mad Bus system which operates during the ski season at a cost of $485,720. Sugarbush is mandated by its agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and the Mad River Valley Planning District through a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding to provide on-mountain public transit. Sugarbush funds $67,500 of the Mad Bus cost and local inns and businesses pay $9,440.

Cole said that GMTA does not overlap with public school transportation programs in The Valley, but its parent organization, the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) does provide public school transportation services in Burlington. Currently schools in the Mad River Valley contract for school bussing through First Student at an annual cost of $792,395. The Warren Elementary School has its own school bus system, budgeted at $91,937 for the current fiscal year.

Locally many parents drive their children to and from school rather than having them ride the bus. In Waitsfield, Principal Richard Schattman is assisting The Valley Reporter in determining why school bus ridership is low and what might induce parents to have their kids ride the bus. The survey can be found at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=FycDjis0Ss9S4BP_2bW39gXA_3d_3d . For additional information about the survey, or to have a clickable link emailed, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Schattman at the Waitsfield Elementary School.

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