ACTR takes helm of 'Stagecoach'
MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) has entered — at the request of the Vermont Agency of Transportation — into what will be at least a three-year management deal with a similar nonprofit transit agency that serves neighboring Orange and northern Windsor counties.
ACTR executive director Jim Moulton said “Stagecoach,” a 38-year-old nonprofit serving Randolph, Bradford, Bethel, Sharon and the Upper Valley area that includes Hartford, White River Junction and their New Hampshire neighbors, lost both its executive director and financial manager in 2013 and is facing a financial crisis.
At the same time, Stagecoach buses carried 100,000 riders in 2013, and Moulton said demand for its services, like those for other transit agencies around Vermont, has grown in recent years.
“They’ve had to leave customers by the roadside because their buses are full,” he said. “The demand is really high.”
Therefore, VTrans turned to ACTR to get Stagecoach back on the right track, Moulton said.
“The Agency of Transportation wanted to ensure that services would continue smoothly because the community depends on them, and also that the organization would have an opportunity to be stabilized,” Moulton said.
Stagecoach, like ACTR, relies for its funding on community, business and individual donations; grants; government subsidies; and, to a lesser extent, ridership fees.
Moulton said Stagecoach officials in 2012 made a decision not to make changes to keep a Medicaid contract, a move that hurt its bottom line. Since then, Stagecoach has accrued debt and now is also running an annual deficit.
ACTR’s mission, Moulton said, will be twofold.
“We can’t just cut back on the paper budget,” he said. “We’ve got to find new revenues, and we’ve got to look at the expenses.”
At the same time, Moulton said Stagecoach has strengths, including a stable workforce of 18 drivers, although its office is short-staffed with just two employees. He expects to hire a couple more office workers.
“Their services are stable, and they are good at what they do. It’s really providing the rest of the infrastructure,” he said.
While looking for efficiencies to save money, Moulton will also fundraise aggressively among the towns and businesses Stagecoach serves, much as ACTR has successfully in Addison County.
He points out many employees of, for example, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Veterans Administration hospitals in the Upper Valley area rely on Stagecoach, and those employers prefer many employees to use Stagecoach buses because of parking problems.
And, Moulton said, transit agencies like ACTR and Stagecoach help people find and retain jobs.
“Transit is not a sexy nonprofit,” he said. “But when you are able to articulate the real impact it has for people, for people who can’t drive, we are the way that people get to work. They wouldn’t be able to have a job. We take people who without transit are sitting at home drawing welfare checks because they can’t do anything, then we provide the route, and then they can get to an employer, now they’re taxpayers.”
By emphasizing that message as well as providing stable management, Moulton said he hopes ACTR can boost Stagecoach’s financial prospects.
“That’s one of the ways that Stagecoach can really see some change, in articulating that story in a stronger way,” Moulton said. “I feel like we have been fortunate and successful in articulating that message and having it resonate with people.”
At the same time, he sees ACTR benefitting.
ACTR, founded 22 years ago, will add one or two employees to its current workforce of 31, and can learn from the relationship with an older transit provider.
“There are many things they are doing well we can learn from. It’s a great opportunity to share best practices,” Moulton said.
A larger ACTR can also be more stable, he said.
“It creates greater stability and greater ability to weather changes when they happen, and they happen all the time. We are very cognizant of all the kerfuffle going on in Washington, D.C., about funding,” Moulton said.
It is also possible the relationship between ACTR and Stagecoach could outlive the initial arrangement.
“During that three years the Stagecoach board and the ACTR board are going to look at what is the best outcome after that. Is it a continuation of that? Is it moving back to separate organizations, or is it something else?” Moulton said. “We’re really approaching this without any preconceived notions.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.