ST. ALBANS – Green Mountain Transit (GMT) is considering expanding its Saturday downtown shuttle services as early as this June.
The proposal is the product of an 18-month reassessment of GMT service titled the Next Gen Transit Plan, in which the agency is working to redraft its transportation systems across the state.
Following recommendations by a hired third party independent consultant, GMT has taken a second look at how they are servicing certain areas around the state, and how simple tweaks or adjustments to routes could make better use of funding.
The biggest proposal of the plan would add an additional three hours of service on Saturdays in St. Albans. The current downtown shuttle runs from 9:45 a.m. – 3:24 p.m. GMT is proposing shifting that to 8:45 a.m. – 5:24 p.m.
In order to make this possible, the organization would have to reallocate funds, and make changes to other service routes. After studying ridership numbers on certain services, GMT is proposing eliminated its weekday 6 p.m. route in downtown St. Albans.
According to research, GMT says that trip averages one person per day.
“For a route that costs a fair amount of money, that’s just not an efficient use of funds,” Chris Loyer, public affairs coordinator of GMT, said.
By canceling that route, GMT estimates saving around $13,000 annually. They plan to invest $8,000 of that into the expanded Saturday services, with an additional $5,000 left over which could be invested in one additional monthly trip to either Richford or Alburgh.
GMT currently has two daily commuter routes in Franklin County: the Alburgh/Georgia Commuter, and the Richford/St. Albans Commuter. When the agency first started redrafting their services, the hope was to add one additional evening trip to these routes a week.
“We were expecting to add second trips, and to have a little more funding to free up. But after we did the math a second time there was not as much available,” Loyer said.
Loyer explained how GMT arrives at the funding estimates for each route, which is based off of what the agency calls service and revenue hours. Revenue hours are the hours of operation that the bus is in service. Service hours, or paid hours, is the time that GMT has to pay drivers which includes check in, pre-trips, and bus prep before the shuttle hits the road. When calculating the full cost of the route, GMT has to factor all of this into the final cost.
Based off of GMT’s calculations, the yearly cost of the St. Albans downtown shuttle is $268,102, while the Alburgh shuttle costs $102,432, and the Richford shuttle $81,439.
“With these numbers in mind, a second trip to these more rural areas was just not possible based on the current funding model,” Loyer said.
The other major change GMT is proposing is an onboard request stop to the St. Albans BAART treatment center for riders on the downtown shuttle.
“We want this service to be convenient. Even though we have the services that are going to BAART every morning anyway, there’s an availability on the downtown shuttle that can be utilized,” Loyer said.
One current service offered by GMT that it plans to keep, is its deviated fixed routes, which Loyer said is fairly unknown. Each of its routes have 10 minutes built in each hour for drivers to be able to leave the route, and pick or drop off someone who lives within a three quarters of a mile radius off the route. That distance is calculated “as the crow flies”, or the literal shortest distance between the two points. Loyer points out that can often mean even if the driving distance is 2 plus miles, the stop will often still fall between that three quarters radius. A rider must notify their driver 24-hours in advance if they plan to utilize this service.
GMT is proposing some other minor changes in order to free up dollars, including an end to its Highgate service. Currently, the Alburgh commuter makes a 10 to 12 minute detour to the town, but the stop averages less than one person a day.
“The community has been really supportive of the stop. They installed the bus stop shelter, they have the park and ride. But it’s just not been well utilized and, when we’re having to realign priorities and investment, it was just not getting a lot of ridership,” Loyer said.
The consultants also recommended GMT stop detouring from its downtown St. Albans route to stop in the Rite Aid parking lot.
“It’s not really convenient, and we really shouldn’t be breaking off routes like that,” Loyer explained. “But some folks are expressing concerns about traveling and walking up the sloped parking lot. With Rite Aid being one of the most populated places for people to get prescriptions, especially seniors, we are reconsidering that.”
“It’s still up for consideration, but we want to make sure we’re responding to community concerns,” Loyer said.
The final change being considered is a rise in shuttle fares. Though Loyer stresses this proposal has merely been recommended to the agency by the consulting firm, and has not yet been considered or discussed with the GMT board.
The recommendation is to raise the current 50 cents local fair to $1.50.
“That’s just what’s being recommended,” Loyer said. “The board could come up with something completely different, so we’ll have to see.”
GMT is still working to finalize their plan, and in the meantime is holding a series of public meetings to receive comments from riders. Those dates have not yet been released, but those interested can find the latest information at www.ridegmt.com/nextgen/.
The goal is to have all changes effective by June of 2019.
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