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Report: To Attract More Millennials, Vermont Must Improve Transportation Services

Young Vermonters who live in rural areas say there is a lack of public transportation options in the state.

According to a new Transportation Board report, the state will need to improve its transportation services to keep more young adults in Vermont.

At a series of eight public forums held on college campuses last fall, young Vermonters shared their concerns with the board.

John Zicconi, Executive Secretary of the board, says participants wanted more choices.

"Young Vermonters are looking for options," said Zicconi. "They do not want to be tied to their automobiles, or even have to have an automobile at all."

The public hearings were held at Bennington College, Castleton State College, the Community College of Vermont in Brattleboro, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, Norwich University, the University of Vermont in Burlington, and Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

"They do not want to be tied to their automobiles, or even have to have an automobile at all." - John Zicconi, Transportation Board Executive Secretary

The focus groups called for public transit options that run later into the evenings, and are accessible from rural areas where housing is more affordable. For access to arts and culture, public transit came up short in some areas.

A Lyndon participant said, “I would like to go to shows at arts organizations in the area (which often take place in the evening.) Using the bus, I might be able to get there, but I will not be able to get back."

Reliable bike paths and car share services were also among the suggestions.

Zicconi says young Vermonters view car-sharing as an extension of public transit. It's ideal for larger errands like grocery shopping or taking a pet to the vet.

"Car sharing, through Zipcar or CarShare Vermont, you can rent a car for an hour or two," said Zicconi. "You can get those types of things done and then use public transit or walk to the other things you need to do on a regular basis."

Right now, those services aren't widely accessible outside Chittenden County. Zicconi said car sharing was in demand in every location the board visited.

This study, along with a national study from the Frontier Group in 2012, hints that young people are moving away from owning their own vehicles. That's in sharp contrast to young people of previous generations.

"It's not just that they think differently than us older people," Zicconi pointed out. "They think differently than the young people of past generations.'

As this information is relatively new, it's not yet clear whether this will be a permanent trend.

Zicconi says there may come a point when the Agency of Transportation will need to spend less on bridge and roadway maintenance. Now, he says, is the time for the state to start thinking about how it will spend money in the coming years.

"When you no longer need to spend it in the places you're spending it today, how do you spend it? This is where it behooves all of the policy makers from the legislature down through the Agency of Transportation to understand what the system of the future needs to look like," said Zicconi.

For the shrinking number of Vermonters ages 20 to 39, transportation will be a major factor when deciding whether to make Vermont their home.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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