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Current looks to bus changes

Connecticut River Transit holds public meeting to solicit feedback from Brattleboro riders

To learn more about CRT, visit crtransit.org or call 802-460-7433. To learn more about the DVTA, visit moover.com or call 802-464-8487.

BRATTLEBORO—Public transportation company Connecticut River Transit, dubbed The Current, held a public meeting as part of the company’s evaluation of services, routes, and fares.

A small but engaged group of travelers attended the afternoon meeting held Feb. 21 in the Selectboard Meeting Room in the Municipal Center. Audience members posed questions about fares, and proposed changes to bus schedules.

Rockingham-based CRT is evaluating its performance route by route, said Randall Schoonmaker, general manager of the Deerfield Valley Transit Authority, who led the meeting.

“You will see changes in times,” said Schoonmaker of proposed route changes and a new CRT brochure due out soon.

The $1 fare will remain the same, said Schoonmaker. The company is considering limiting the sale and use of prepaid tokens on Brattleboro buses.

Operating as The MOOver, the DTVA signed a one-year management agreement last September with CRT. The DVTA helped launch The Current about 10 years ago.

According to a statement from CRT Board of Directors President Ted Reeves last year, CRT is reviewing its company from “top to bottom.”

CRT serves areas north to White River Junction, parts of Windham and Windsor Counties, west into Rutland County, and east into parts of New Hampshire.

“CRT does really, really well with generating local funding,” said Schoonmaker. “The problem is, fuel goes up every year, insurance goes up every year.”

Funding for the bus service comes from federal, state, and municipal coffers, and fares, said Schoonmaker.

Schoonmaker estimated that operating the bus lines cost double the generated local funds.

Vermont has 10 public bus systems, each with its own territory, and all apply to a common pot of state and federal funding, he said.

In the Brattleboro area, local funding from municipalities, businesses, and fares generated $155,489 in fiscal year 2013, according to a handout from Schoonmaker.

In fiscal year 2013, the town of Brattleboro chipped in $53,000 toward the service; the town of Hinsdale, N.H. sent in $15,500.

Local business partners and a New Hampshire transportation grant helped fund the bus runs. Also in fiscal year 2013, fares and discounted tokens contributed a sizable portion: $55,364, said Schoonmaker.

The company has three of its 19 routes in Brattleboro, said Schoonmaker. CRT took over the town’s BeeLine bus service 3 {1/2} years ago.

CRT’s buses covered 113,364 miles in fiscal year 2013 driving the Brattleboro routes for an average cost of $3.16 a mile. The Red Line covers West Brattleboro into downtown. The Blue Line travels from the Guilford Country Store to downtown Brattleboro, and into Hinsdale. The White Line travels between C&S Wholesale Grocers in North Brattleboro, The Retreat, and downtown.

Schoonmaker said the company is exploring other ways to use the tokens to assist travelers with low incomes. One idea is to give the tokens to state agencies that then pass the tokens on to riders in need.

According to data from Schoonmaker, the CRT offers a 26 percent discount on prepaid tokens. The practice, however, has led to $4,594 in lost income.

Potential changes in routes include eliminating a run down Moreland Avenue.

Schoonmaker said the company will discuss adding an afternoon trip to the School for International Training (SIT).

The company may add a weekday afternoon trip to Walmart, and is weighing eliminating three runs to Walmart and Hinsdale on Saturday due to low ridership at 7:50 a.m. and 5:40 and 6:02 p.m.

Schoonmaker said that the town and CRT have drafted a new memorandum of understanding, replacing the one that expired in November. The only change is increased marketing efforts by CRT to increase ridership.

The Brattleboro buses haven’t had a new brochure in four years, said Schoonmaker. A new brochure should be ready within a month as part of an increased marketing plan.

If the budget allows, CRT will bulk-mail the new brochure to Brattleboro and Hinsdale residents. Riders could also pick up the brochure on the buses, at schools, at public buildings, and in local businesses.

Schoonmaker credits bulk-mailing the DVTA brochure and schedule to residents in the Deerfield Valley with keeping ridership strong.

According to a press release, DVTA serves six towns in the Deerfield Valley, from Wardsboro to the Massachusetts border. The company operates 16 bus routes and is the third-largest provider of fixed routes rides, behind Burlington and Rutland.

Along with updates to the website, Schoonmaker said that the company will install new bus stop signs with schedules specific to each stop. Bus shelters will receive regular cleanings.

On the technology side, Schoonmaker said he hoped to see electronic swipe boxes on the buses to allow riders to use touch cards.

Schoonmaker took feedback on potential route changes, and audience members suggested other route modifications. Schoonmaker said to contact him as concerns come up.

The CRT is always looking to maximize its ridership and route system, he said. Suggestions are always welcomed.

“We always need to take a fresh look at things,” Schoonmaker said.

He warned, however, that many of the state and federal grants were awarded based on work plans sent in by CRT at the time it applied for the grants. These work plans will have to be adhered to until the grants expire.

Schoonmaker will hold other public meetings in the CRT route system. The CRT board will review data gathered in these meetings and then vote on changes next month.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #243 (Wednesday, February 26, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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