MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) will receive $200,000 in federal grant money in each of the next three years to increase service along three of its bus routes.
The grant awards, confirmed late last week by state officials, will benefit ACTR’s Middlebury Shuttle, Tri-Town Shuttle, and Burlington Link service that is run in cooperation with the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA).
Jim Moulton, executive director of ACTR, said the money will help increase the frequency of stops along those routes, thereby decreasing riders’ commute times and enhancing their ability to connect with other buses within the local public transportation system.
“I see this as really transformative for the quality of transportation we will be able to offer to people,” Moulton said. “People won’t have to plan as hard to ride the bus.”
ACTR’s financial cut comes from $3.9 million in Federal Transit Administration grants that will be distributed through the Vermont Agency of Transportation. Moulton noted that ACTR will need to come up with a local match of $50,000 in each of the three years, but he is confident the agency will be able to meet that goal. He said Middlebury College, Goodrich Corp., the town of Bristol and other entities have already pledged resources amounting to half the first year’s match.
ACTR will reach out again to the city of Vergennes for a donation, given the Tri-Town Shuttle’s service to that community. A majority of Vergennes aldermen last summer declined a request by ACTR to boost its annual support of the agency by another $3,750 (from the current $4,650) for this year.
“They were supportive of the proposal, but were concerned about their budget,” Moulton said. He is hoping that with the grant money now within ACTR’s grasp, city officials will feel more comfortable committing to the additional local contribution next year — which he said would translate into approximately $2 per Vergennes resident.
“If they ride the service once from Vergennes to Middlebury, they will have already saved more than $2,” Moulton said. “The more they ride, the more they save.”
Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, said she will work to make sure ACTR gets its local match. She said that if aldermen elect not to build a local match sum in the municipal budget, ACTR could try to petition for a separate appropriation at the annual city meeting, or ask the Vergennes Partnership to help coordinate a donation drive.
“I’m looking forward to hearing public input on how we can make this process work,” Lanpher said.
“I’m very excited for what this (expanded service) means for jobs and customers,” she added.
Moulton said the new grant money will boost ACTR’s shuttle bus system by 40 percent. Here’s how it will benefit individual routes:
• ACTR will create two separate-but-linked routes by adjusting and expanding the current Middlebury Shuttle service. This will create a “Middlebury North” route and a “Middlebury South” route. This re-design will create a frequency of service on the south loop of 30 minutes and on the north loop of 30 minutes at peak commuter hours; and 60 minutes at non-peak hours. The current service is 45 minutes at peak and 90 minutes at non-peak. Service is planned to operate 12 hours per day.
Moulton said the expansion will “provide seamless connectivity with every public transportation route leading in and out of Middlebury,” including the Tri-Town Shuttle, the Snow Bowl Shuttle, Burlington LINK and the Rutland Connector.
The more frequent connections will get in-town riders to major employment centers — such as Middlebury College, Porter Medical Center, Route 7 south and Exchange Street — in a more timely fashion, Moulton noted.
• ACTR will create two separate-but-linked routes by splitting the current Tri-Town Shuttle service into a “Tri-Town/Vergennes” route and a “Tri-Town/Bristol” route. Moulton said this re-design will create direct bus service between Vergennes and Middlebury, substantially reducing travel time from the current 55 minutes to around 25 minutes; create direct bus service between New Haven and Middlebury, substantially reducing travel time from the current 40 minutes to approximately 15 minutes; and increase frequency of service on the entire route to a one-hour headway from the current two-hour headway, thus significantly improving access for residents of each community.
Expanding public transportation links between Bristol, New Haven and Burlington (from once per day to twice per day) will provide additional connections with CCTA Link services to St. Albans and Montpelier; and Vermont Transit inter-city bus service south to White River Junction, Concord, N.H., and Boston, and to the north to Montreal.
• ACTR will double service on Saturday between Middlebury and Burlington through the Burlington Link. This re-design will expand service from two departures daily to four, which will provide additional connections with Vermont Transit inter-city bus service south to points south and north, Burlington International Airport via CCTA’s airport service from the Cherry Street Station, and other local destinations via CCTA’s local services.
Moulton said ACTR will add up to four full-time equivalent positions and boost part-time hours as a result of the service expansion.
“We will use buses from the current fleet, but we will need to hire more drivers and administrative staff,” Moulton said. The grant money will cover those costs, as well as added expenses for fuel, tires and other vehicle-related maintenance.
Middlebury resident Herb Gingrich has for years been using the Tri-Town Shuttle to get to his job at Northlands Job Corps. He does not own a car. Gingrich said the expanded service will give him more flexibility in getting to and from his workplace.
“It’s great this is happening,” Gingrich said.
ACTR will hold four public hearings in November and December to gather feedback on the details of the proposals. They will be held in Bristol, Vergennes, Middlebury and at Middlebury College, with dates, times and locations still to be confirmed.
ACTR is targeting early February to start the expanded service.
Moulton said he is confident the newly expanded routes will continue beyond the three-year grant timeline. He explained that as long as the routes meet certain ridership benchmarks, they are likely to be built into ACTR’s state and federal funding schedule. He noted ACTR’s Snow Bowl, Burlington and Rutland services were all initially funded with three-year grants, and all those routes have now been around for four or more years.
“There’s a slight chance that funding could end after three years, but history has shown that has never happened,” Moulton said.