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Area options dwindle for long-distance transportation

Limited options frustrate inter-city travelers

BRATTLEBORO—If you tried to make a plan to take the bus from Brattleboro to get to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, you discovered a sad truth — the options are extremely limited.

Last fall, travelers looking for a way to get from Brattleboro to New York or Boston and back had three intercity bus options to choose from — Greyhound, Megabus, and MAXbus.

This fall, Brattleboro is down to one bus a day, offered by Greyhound. That, and the daily Amtrak Vermonter passenger train, are the only ways to get to Boston or Springfield, Mass., or New York City, if you don’t have a car.

Megabus quietly ended service to New York City from Brattleboro over the summer. The Burlington to New York City bus now passes by Brattleboro on Interstate 91 each day without stopping.

MAXBus ended its once-a-day service from Brattleboro to Boston on June 30, after the Massachusetts Department of Transportation ended its subsidy for the bus route.

In an email to The Commons, Connie Englert, managing director for TrueNorth Transit Group, the operators of MAXBus, called the end of the Brattleboro route “heartbreaking.”

Englert said TrueNorth entered a bid to continue the Brattleboro to Boston run with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, operating it in conjunction with a new bus service funded by the Agency between Manchester, Vt., and Albany, N.Y.

“We didn’t even get the courtesy of an acknowledgement of our submittal,” Englert wrote.

In a farewell note on the website, Englert wrote that in the year that the service was in operation “MAX cut its costs by 50 percent, doubled ridership and tripled revenue” and exceeded MassDOT’s own financial and efficiency standards established for intercity bus performance.

“Notwithstanding, the regional route MAX operates was never intended to make money and would always require public support, just as roads, rails and the MBTA do,” Englert wrote.

“It was established to be part of a cross-subsidized state-wide BusPlus program that could draw millions of new public transportation dollars into the system to bolster regional transit programs and restore unprofitable rural regional bus corridors. This investment program, somehow, got sidelined in favor of other initiatives. ”

Limited options

So, if you wanted to go from Brattleboro to Boston or New York, how long would it take?

On Greyhound, the daily bus leaves LiptonMart on Canal Street at 10:20 a.m.

If you’re heading to Boston, you would first have to get off in Springfield, Mass., at 11:55 a.m., and wait at the station for the next bus to Boston at 3:55 p.m. Depending on traffic, you would then arrive in Boston at 6:05 p.m.

Going to New York City? You still have to stop in Springfield and wait 55 minutes, but you don’t have to change buses. If all is well, you will arrive in New York at the Port Authority terminal on Eighth Avenue at 4:05 p.m.

As for Amtrak’s Vermonter, it is scheduled to leave Brattleboro daily at 1:01 p.m. and get to Penn Station in New York at 6:25 p.m.

In theory, you could take the Vermonter part of the way to Boston, but you would have to get off in New Haven, Conn., and wait for a connecting train from there. That could get you to Boston at 7:40 p.m. at the earliest, or 10:10 p.m. at the latest.

More train service coming?

The Windham Regional Commission was as surprised as the public when it came to reduction of bus service, said Erica Roper, a transportation planner with the commission.

The hopeful news is that the lack of intercity travel options from Brattleboro might be filled by rail.

In May 2018, the Connecticut Department of Transportation will launch commuter rail service between Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven.

According to ConnDOT, the proposed schedule calls for eight commuter trains each day between the three cities, timed so they connect with Amtrak and Metro North trains in New Haven. A one-way fare between Springfield and New Haven is expected to cost $12.75.

Weekday service would begin at 6 a.m., and run as late as 11 p.m. Trains would run every 45 minutes during morning and evening peak times, and every 90 minutes during off-peak hours. The trains would have a top speed of up to 110 mph, and reduce travel time between Springfield and New Haven to 81 minutes for the 62-mile trip.

The goal of the service — which has cost more than $760 million to build and is being carried out in partnership with Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, and MassDOT — is to divert 1.5 million passenger trips per year from the highways to the rails, and to boost economic growth in the towns along the route.

Roper said the WRC is working with the Pioneer Valley Regional Commission and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Massachusetts, and the Southwest Region Planning Commission in New Hampshire to persuade MassDOT and ConnDOT to consider extending the service northward, possibly to Brattleboro.

“We had the first tri-state meeting in November, and we plan on having a follow-up meeting by the end of the year,” Roper said.

The WRC is concerned about the lack of public transportation options in Brattleboro, Roper said, and expanding rail service “gives us a real opportunity to fix that.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #438 (Wednesday, December 13, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.

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