By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) board on Aug. 29 will decide whether to institute fares on some or all of its bus routes to compensate for rising fuel costs.
Currently, ACTR does not charge fares for its in-county routes, which include the Tri-Town Shuttle (serving Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes), the Middlebury In-Town Shuttle and a service to the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. The organization has seen a big surge in ridership in recent months, due in large part to skyrocketing fuel prices that have prompted more people to use public transportation.
Trouble is, those surging fuel prices are also slamming ACTR’s budget, to the point where the organization is having to re-evaluate its fare-free policy and some of its least-traveled routes, according ACTR board President Dean George.
“Our board will be meeting this month to consider (fares) as a way to reduce the shortfall in our proposed budget,” George said. “I think it’s the responsible thing to do.”
James Moulton, executive director of ACTR, said the organization budgeted $108,000 for fuel during the fiscal year that ended June 30. This fiscal year’s fuel budget features an increase of more than $70,000, a reflection of soaring prices at the pump.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) has some oversight over the budgets of ACTR and other regional public transportation organizations. With that in mind, ACTR officials believe that VTrans may push for the introduction of fares, or fare increases, as a way of balancing budgets.
“We’re not getting any new money, but we are seeing an increase in demand and our costs are going up,” George said.
Moulton noted that Chittenden County Transportation Authority is seeking permission to raise the one-way fare on the Burlington Link Express (which serves Middlebury) from the $3 to $4.
The Link Express is now serving an average of 110 riders each day, up 40 percent compared to the same time last year.
Ridership on the Tri-Town shuttle is up 20 percent compared to the same time last year, while the In-Town Shuttle’s ridership is up 10 percent.
“People are finding that a 10-, 20- or 30-mile drive is not affordable anymore,” Moulton said of the heightened interest in public transportation.
In other ACTR news, the organization recently learned that it will be receiving a new, 28-seat bus thanks to a share of a $1.5 million federal transportation grant previously secured by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and former U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt.
Moulton said the bus will supplant a smaller ACTR bus and will be mixed into the organization’s most popular routes. He expects the bus to be delivered in September.