GMT adding service hours, mulling rate hike

Photo by Madeline Clark
The Williston 1 bus waits for passengers at the Downtown Transit Center in Burlington. It is one of the routes that will see increased service under the NextGen route change proposals.

Staff Reporter

Green Mountain Transit (GMT) has released the results of its NextGen transit study and for Shelburne, that means increased service hours along the 6 route. A 25-cent fare hike is also under consideration, according to GMT documents.

The study, conducted by California-based Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, was a near year-long effort to re-examine ridership, population centers and routes, among other GMT operations, according to GMT Chairman Thomas Chittenden. The NextGen study cost roughly $256,000 and was covered by a state planning grant. Its findings suggest decreasing service hours in several towns and combining certain routes into streamlined runs.

“Some of these efficiency routes are a necessity in order for us to be able to pay for the services that we need to cover,” Chittenden said.

Under the proposal, Shelburne would see additional hours of GMT service via additions to the Shelburne 6 route.

The 6 bus would see an additional 15 weekday trips, as well as seven new Saturday trips. The changes would increase nighttime service.

On GMT’s “major routes” – of which the Shelburne route is a part – service will change from every 15 minutes during peak travel times and 30 minutes standard to every 20 minutes from 6 a.m.-6 p.m.  All other routes will see a standard 30-minute service.

Ending 15-minute service intervals allows GMT to increase evening and weekend service, GMT public relations specialist Jamie Smith said.

“We moved it to 20 minutes, which is still, we feel, a really reasonable threshold,” she said.

But Chittenden said he understands some riders might not take to the schedule change. He encourages them to attend GMT’s public meetings and voice their concerns.

“We adjust based on public feedback,” he said. “If people speak up we will adjust from what we hear.”

GMT also looks to begin “interlining” which entails combining two routes into one for greater efficiency and fewer passenger transfers.

Under this adjustment the Essex Junction route will seamlessly turn into the Shelburne route once the bus pulls into the Downtown Transit Center in Burlington, Smith said.

Passengers could see a 25-cent fare hike on local rides, raising the price to $1.50. The GMT board has begun public hearings for the fare increase and will vote on the issue later this spring. A strong economy and low unemployment make for favorable conditions to adjust the rate, Chittenden said. Fares have not changed since 2005.

“If there is a lot of public concern then we will, as a board, consider that feedback,” Chittenden said, adding the board kept financially sensitive riders in mind with a proposal to lower the monthly unlimited pass from $50 to $40.

Other changes at GMT include a move from “RouteShout,” its current real-time bus tracking app to the state-procured “Swiftly” transportation tracker.

“The experience with RouteShout has not been up to GMT standards and we’ve heard a lot of passenger complaints,” Smith said.

The RouteShout app was updated with GMT bus positions via tablets on the buses. But issues with the tablets would cause inaccurate wait time estimates. Swiftly technology will be hardwired into GMT buses, which will mitigate tracking problems, Smith said.

The new app as well as an online ticket purchasing platform may launch alongside GMT’s proposed service changes, Smith said.

GMT has faced financial challenges in recent times. Declining ridership fueled by a strong economy and low gas prices have contributed to the challenge, Chittenden said. Level state-funding and increasing operational costs are also to blame. But NextGen recommendations should create cost efficiencies and improve GMT service, he added.

“I do have confidence in [NextGen] and I was very impressed by the consultants and their approach to things,” Chittenden said. “They’re giving us an unvarnished, unbiased perspective of how public transportation can best serve the ridership of the region.”

At a Shelburne Vineyard meeting last week local business owners – with selectboard chair Jerry Storey and selectwoman Mary Kehoe in attendance – discussed the benefit of increasing public transportation along Route 7 and other town locales. Attendees at last week’s GMT Shelburne public meeting alerted representatives of that discussion, though the company was not prepared to address suggestions, Smith said.

Last year, the selectboard discussed increasing service to Vermont Teddy Bear and points between given high demand, Storey said, adding the conversation also included looking into a service extension at the end of Day Road to Shelburne Farms.

Town officials hope to increase tourism at these sites and help the employees who serve them with additional means to get to work. The ripple effect could foster economic growth, according to Storey.

“The prospect of public transportation is very important, if not integral for us,” he said. “We’re also the first to recognize it’s complicated.”

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