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Another No Vote May Threaten Bus Service In Rutland

Nina Keck
90-year-old Mary Johnson waits to board the bus in Rutland. Johnson says she no longer drives and the bus helps her stay independent. If Marble Valley Regional Transit's funding request isn't passed on Tuesday, they will have to make cuts to the service.

Marble Valley Regional Transit, the nonprofit that provides public bus service to Rutland may have to make some painful cuts if local residents say no next Tuesday to a $46,000 funding request - the same amount the city narrowly voted down last year.

That has long time Rutland resident Mary Johnson worried. The 90-year old waits for a late morning bus at The Maples, a senior housing complex in Rutland. “I depend on the bus to get me to the hospital, to doctors appointments, to the bank, to do all my errands,” she says. “I have family I could ask, but I would rather not, so this keeps me independent." And she says many of the retirees who live at The Maples feel the same way.

"I depend on the bus to get me to the hospital, to doctors appointments, to the bank, to do all my errands ... this keeps me independent." - Mary Johnson, Rutland resident

A few moments later, Johnson waves goodbye and boards a large red and white bus that travels one of five fixed routes in the city.

In addition to those, Marble Valley Regional Transit also runs commuter, skiing, hospital and shopping buses, serving a number of outlying towns like Middlebury, Fair Haven and Killington.

Minga Dana, Marble Valley Regional Transit’s Executive Director, says they provided about 700,000 rides last year, with fares ranging from $.25 to $.50.

But while ridership is up nearly 3 percent, Dana says she was shocked last year when, unlike outlying towns that approved their funding, city voters narrowly turned down the bus service’s request for $46,000.

Dana says that local money is vital in helping them leverage state and federal transportation funds that she says help cover their $5 million overall budget. She says two "no" votes in a row from the city will force them to make some difficult choices.

“I don’t believe we’ll cancel service,” says Dana. “But we will have to make some adjustments to cut back some of the service which will really be a difficult decision for the seniors who are our staunch supporters and don’t drive anymore. And for the low income which don’t have vehicles and need to get to jobs.”

But Jay Grimes, who manages The Meadows, a large retirement complex and assisted living facility in Rutland Town, says the "no" vote should serve as a wake up call. He says he approached transit officials three years ago about creating a stop for his residents, but was told the bus’ 30-minute routes couldn’t be changed to accommodate that. And he says setting up a separate bus would cost his facility tens of thousands of dollars.

Grimes says the transit system’s lack of flexibility was incredibly frustrating. “My thoughts were, 'hey, we’ve got the potential of 150 people that could be customers who would pay every time they went and they didn’t want to go out of their way to pick them up,'” he says.

"The routes were set up years ago when there was less traffic in the city and we don't need a bus every half hour. An hourly bus would be fine and the drivers wouldn't have to race to get back to the transit center." - Marie Cedar, Rutland resident

Rutland resident Marie Cedar depends on the bus and encourages city residents to support it. But she too believes the service needs to be redesigned. “The routes were set up years ago when there was less traffic in the city and we don’t need a bus every half hour,” says Cedar. “An hourly bus would be fine and the drivers wouldn’t have to race to get back to the transit center.”

But Marble Valley Regional Transit’s Minga Dana disagrees and says 30-minute routes make it much easier to coordinate their various buses and better serve commuters who travel from outlying areas.  And she says with current funds in question, any redesign or expansion of services will only get harder.

One in five Vermonters is considered elderly. But what does being elderly even mean — and what do Vermonters need to know as they age? I’m looking into how aging in Vermont impacts living essentials such as jobs, health care and housing. And also how aging impacts the stuff of life: marriage, loss, dating and sex.
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