By Kara Herlihy
The issue of what's next for public transit in The Valley will be discussed at this month's meeting of the Mad River Valley Planning District steering committee.
GMTA has also scheduled a second public meeting for July 14 to gather responses and input from residents regarding the short-term plan. That meeting takes place at 5 p.m. at the Montpelier City Hall Memorial Room.
GMTA wants input regarding their plan for the next three to five years, as well as general transit planning for Central Vermont, which they are required to do to keep receiving federal and state funding. GMTA representative Tawnya Kristen said that [residents'] "input is key right now."
Kristen explained, "GMTA is taking a proactive approach in our larger scale/long term planning through something called the Short Range Transit Plan (a 5- to 20-year transit improvement plan) which we are just embarking on with the Board. This plan is vital since transit projects have to be submitted to be eligible for federal and often state funding. It's a process GMTA has not been through before, and we encourage input on this process from MRV residents. We are scheduling a public meeting in July."
Currently, The Valley's seasonal public transit, the MadBus, relies on funding from Sugarbush and the local chamber of commerce along with funding from the state of Vermont, and the federal government. GMTA is a subsidiary organization, managed by the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA).
Up to this point, GMTA has been working with the Transit Advisory Committee (TAC) in The Valley, a group that "advises the GMTA staff and GMTA Board of Directors on local priorities for services," according to Kristen. Local TAC members are Margo Wade from Sugarbush and Steve Gladzchuk, a Waitsfield resident who works in transportation planning.
She continued, "Typically we evaluate, plan and program Mad River services for the year beginning in the fall. At this point, our biggest constraint is not how or what to plan but where to obtain the funding. Fares do not cover the costs of operating bus services."
When asked about the projected costs of attaining year-round bus service, Kristen said, "It depends on the amount of service offered. At the minimum, a weekday commuter route from The Valley to Montpelier with only two morning and two evening round trips would cost in the range of $150,000. Adding more service times or locations would bring the costs even higher. The time to plan a direct commuter route would not be as challenging as establishing the funding source."
She added, "Without additional funds, there can be no new service. We are currently able to maintain our existing services for central Vermont but have no means to offer any additional service no matter what the current demand is. The need for service, due to financial and environmental reasons, is growing at a rapid pace. This is not seen just in central Vermont, but in the whole state as well as nationally. Though the demand from the public allows a clear picture of need to be presented, we are not seeing a response from the federal and state decision makers through funding allocations."
In terms of state funding, Kristen reports, "GMTA has written several grant applications to the State of Vermont for a commuter route from the Mad River Valley to Montpelier, but the state has not funded the service due to other area requests where there is a higher ridership potential. This ridership potential is based on daily commuting data. However, as the state awards the highest ridership service, they may work their way to our market in The Valley. If and when funding for additional service becomes available, a year-round connection between The Valley and other parts of Washington County is a priority of consideration via grant applications. Our requests are compared to not just the immediate area needs but that of all areas in the state. The evaluation of applications for funding at the state level takes ridership projections into account to determine greatest area of need and most cost-effective through most served."
"We are ready to supply the service and look forward to the time when the funds are attainable to offer each commuter in need an affordable and efficient means of transport," Kristen said.