FORCED BUSING—AN UNFAIR COMMUTER TRANSPORTATION PRACTICE
Feel “transportation discrimination”? Well be a commuter in or out of Burlington, VT exercising “commuter choice” by abandoning the car and what do you get?--second-class transportation in the form of a stuffy, jammed and sometimes standing room only bus (and room for only two bicycles). Welcome to the transportation quality of service typically found in less developed nations!
The first paragraph clearly paints a totally unfair picture of the Chittenden County Transportation's (CCTA) spectacularly successful commuter buses, the “Link” services introduced in the last few years--east to Montpelier, north to St. Albans and south to Middlebury. CCTA ranks as one of the best is not the best public transportation services in the nation in a small Metro. But the first paragraph description also indisputably tells us that the regional commuter routes by bus only, the Link services shouldered by CCTA, primarily reflect a State responsibility, a failed responsibility to date marked by clear lack of foresight and policy direction. The commuter environment shows, again, the citizens and their demand for modern transportation finds public leadership either asleep or scrambling to catch up (or both!). As the saying goes, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT), the Legislative Transportation Committees and northwest Vermont regional planning agencies “just don't get it.”
Every month Burlington bound and Burlington outbound commuter numbers increase with 310 commuters regularly served by Link buses, roughly 20% of the potential commuter market. The three older Link services growth since last July average 26%, not including a fourth Link service between Burlington and Milton begun within the past year.
Regional planners and the VAOT focus goes to all kinds of new “park and ride” investments while ignoring in the first place of providing a quality set of services built around self-propelled, high passenger capacity, rail-diesel passenger equipment. Moreover current Link services leave the State's largest private employer, IBM with its unique railside access, unserved and a skeletal service to downtown Waterbury (from Burlington only) with its major State complex.
Note that free commuter park-and-ride lots and employee parking continue a major subsidy to workers, a subsidy generally discontinued in mature public transportation services, including commuter rail. In the meantime all one needs to know about federal priorities comes from the fact that every type of commuting to work qualifies the commuter for one individual income tax credit or benefit of another except one—walking.
Note that a review of the three Burlington corridors—east, north and south—market potential for commuter rail amounts to about 5,000. Certainly an initial potential use of commuter rail based on Link performance might well reach 30% or 1,500 commuters. The Link services as well as shuttle connections from rail stations would continue as a supplement and feeder for what really becomes an overall integrated rail/bus system. Bicycle and walking modes facilities supporting the integrated network must be a given.
Then there is the larger question of inter-city services enabled by current Link type services today, for examples, connecting Burlington to St. Johnsbury via Montpelier and Burlingon to Rutland via Middelbury. While inter-city and commuter rail services get separate treatments in terms of federal funding, in a small state like Vermont they naturally overlap. The recent Vermont intercity routes built off commuter Link and Link-type services (plus Amtrak) perfectly illustrate how both services connect an re-enforce each other. Extensions of commuter rail to eventually provide intercity links to every major community along with services designed to strengthen the tourist industry also naturally grow out of upgrading tracks and building of commuter rail services. The choices for rail clearly find expression in three major studies dating from 1989—the only thing remaining comes in dusting off the studies and build off the pioneering commuter services CCTA and other public transit agencies have built which show a new reality as more and more Vermonters want out of the unsustainable and uneconomic auto-centric lifestyle.
Time now to catch the growing wave of commuters wanting a quality alternative to car commuting which awaits Legislative, regions, and VAOT leadership. All aboard!