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Selectboard votes 4-1 to end town management of BeeLine bus service

BRATTLEBORO—At a special meeting on Tuesday, the Selectboard voted 4-1 to change the administration of the BeeLine town bus service from town control to an outside transit provider.

Board member Dora Bouboulis cast the only dissenting vote.

Both the Deerfield Valley Transit Association (DVTA) and Connecticut River Transit (CRT) have expressed interest in submitting proposals to run the BeeLine. Both already work closely with the BeeLine to provide connecting service to their respective routes. Both the DVTA and CRT have stated that they would expand the current BeeLine service if they were to run Brattleboro’s system.

Brattleboro is the only town in the state that operates its own bus service. Other municipalities contract with private, nonprofit groups — which both the DVTA and CRT are —  to handle day-to-day responsibilities and administer the grant money that pays for bus service.

The town contributes $50,000 to the BeeLine’s $316,000 operating budget, with $62,750 from fares and donations and the rest from federal grants administered by the state.

Town Manager Barbara Sondag said Tuesday that the town’s contribution to the service wouldn’t change. What would change is that the administration of grant money would shift from the town to the new organization.

Besides concerns over the aging fleet of buses and the rising cost of keeping them in service, Sondag said that the town “does not have a lot of depth” in running the BeeLine’s two current routes.

“If we were to expand our routes, there’s no way to tweak the system we have now,” she said.

The board was mostly in agreement with the idea that the town needs to turn over the BeeLine to an entity with the resources to expand service.

“We’re never going to get to expanded service unless we go this route,” said board member Daryl Pillsbury.

Bouboulis said she was opposed because she was afraid about the loss of local control. “Public transit means public transit,” she said.

Chairman Dick DeGray supported the move, as did board members Jesse Corum and Martha O’Connor.

“On the surface, it looks like [riders] are getting efficient service,” said DeGray, “but it’s getting harder for us to provide that service.”

Right now, it takes two hours for one BeeLine bus to complete a route. Board members expressed hope that a new provider could schedule more buses and reduce the route time to about an hour.

“At the end of the day, I believe we would have a better product,” said DeGray.

The recent announcement that BeeLine administrator Bryan Daniels is resigning his post also factored into the board’s decision to relinquish control of the BeeLine.

  Daniels, who managed the grant, coordinated bus maintenance and scheduled driver shifts, resigned effective June 18, but agreed to stay on until the town put a transition plan into place.

According to the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Beeline average ridership is 12.5 per hour — the best in the state.

Randy Schoonmaker, the executive director of DVTA, said Tuesday that his organization has provided guidance and assistance to the BeeLine’s managers over the years and has a very good knowledge base about how the system operates.

“We share all of the goals we’ve heard today,” he said. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be interested in running the BeeLine.”

About 20 people — many of them users of the BeeLine — attended the meeting, and all were concerned about the change of administration.

“I think the town is rushing to abrogate a fundamental town responsibility,” said Howard Mills. “We’re the only town to run a bus service, and we’re the best. Once you let something like this out of control, it will be difficult to get it back.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #56 (Wednesday, June 30, 2010).

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