BRATTLEBORO—Riders confused by The Current’s bus schedule will soon get some relief.
Officials with Southeast Vermont Transit, the company that runs The Current, Brattleboro’s local bus service, are working on a Brattleboro bus system improvement plan.
They held two public meetings at the Municipal Center — one in the afternoon and another in the evening — on Aug. 24 to explain the plan.
Southeast Vermont Transit Chief Executive Officer Randall Schoonmaker spent a few minutes talking about the project, which includes a grant-funded study conducted by Steadman Hill Consulting and two public surveys about the Brattleboro bus system, one for riders and one for non-riders.
What officials are trying to do, he said, is make the bus system more efficient and increase ridership.
“Mostly tonight, we’re here to listen to you,” Schoonmaker told attendees at the evening meeting.
Of the 12 attendees, half were self-identified bus riders. All six provided testimony, and the common theme was: The drivers are excellent, the bus schedule is confusing.
“The drivers are fantastic,” said Judy Malloy. “They put up with a lot of grief, and they do a great job."
Agnes Sebille noted the drivers’ camaraderie with passengers. “They know our names and we talk and laugh.”
Marilyn Pizziferri said she recently moved from Boston to Brattleboro because she was seeking a home where owning a car isn’t necessary, and Brattleboro’s public bus system helped her decide to settle here.
But the schedule isn’t friendly toward visitors or newcomers, Pizziferri said. Some of the route names are abbreviations that only a local would know. “What’s CCV? What’s BMH? I don’t know what Westgate is,” she said.
And not all stops on the schedule correspond to their names. “The ‘River Garden’ stop doesn’t stop at the River Garden,” Pizziferri said.
Rebecca Gagnon, General Manager of The Current, noted improved signage was on the transit company’s agenda, too, but some signs are on private property, so they are working on getting permission from the owners.
“We heard you,” Schoonmaker said. “We know how awful those schedules are.”
He said it’s a priority to fix them. Southeast Vermont Transit officials will present the new schedule as part of the improvement plan at another round of public meetings in late September.
The White Line will get folded into the Red and Blue Lines. Those stops won’t disappear, Schoonmaker said, but will get integrated, requiring fewer transfers.
“I want to assure our existing riders that the core schedules will remain, so that you will continue to reach your jobs, shopping, and medical appointments” Schoonmaker said in a news release.
After a few attendees noted some downtown stops aren’t there anymore, Schoonmaker confirmed that they aren’t imagining things. “Over time, those stops have disappeared from downtown and we’re working with the town to restore them,” he said, noting “we had a nice meeting with the town manager.”
More than one attendee requested a bus route that connects Western Avenue and Canal Street by way of Guilford and Maple streets.
Stephen Dutton said it would be helpful to take the bus to his appointments at the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, located at the Winston Prouty campus (formerly the Austine School).
Margaret Atkinson, director of development and community relations for the Winston Prouty Center, noted 19 different entities are located on the campus, and “there may be some real potential” for increased ridership from staff and clients if that route were established.
Joe Madison, who serves on the Brattleboro Music Center’s board of directors, said that bus line would help students get from school to their lessons, too.
Schoonmaker seemed interested in this option, and asked for some times of day when the route is most needed. Atkinson said mid-day and the morning and evening commuter times would be helpful; Madison asked for evening buses.
Mark Denio asked if The Current would start offering rider cards so patrons didn’t have to use cash for every ride. Gagnon said the technology needed for the cards is “on order” and should arrive soon. Riders can fill their cards on the bus using coins or bills, but, Schoonmaker noted, they cannot use debit or credit cards on the bus because that technology isn’t within reach yet.
Schoonmaker also noted some riders want Sunday service. “Sunday is tough,” he said, “but we’re going to try.”
What won’t happen, at least in the near future, is an expansion of The Current’s service into Keene, N.H., or Greenfield, Mass.
The Current is funded for about 9,000 hours of service per year in Brattleboro. Schoonmaker said “that amount of funding and hours is not going to change” any time soon, but noted it is a long-range goal.
The Route 30 line may open sooner, Schoonmaker said, because “we have an application with the state to go up Route 30 to Newfane,” but not very soon because those plans are stalled — again, because of a lack of funding.
Malloy asked why the MOOver bus, which is owned by Southeast Vermont Transit and mostly serves the Deerfield Valley with connecting service into Brattleboro, won’t pick her up when she’s waiting for a bus on Western Avenue.
Schoonmaker explained that the MOOver is on a strict schedule, so drivers can drop off passengers, but not pick them up except at designated stops. “We’re basically an express. We have to make connections” with other buses, he said.
He also noted that the MOOver is free to ride, and The Current isn’t.
Last year, The Current brought in $50,000 in revenue, one $1 fare at a time, and that represents only 8 percent of its operating costs.
“Every time we’d pick you up,” in the MOOver instead of The Current, Schoonmaker said, “we’d lose a dollar.”