DEMAND MANAGEMENT MUCH IN DEMAND BY VERMONT CUSTOMERS
Apparently lots of the greater Burlington region commuters take to the Link buses which for a typical commuter between Montpelier and Burlington can increase the household dollars available—after taxes—by upwards of $7,000 yearly.
With just a month to go in the operational year of the Link buses between Burlington and the outlying connections—Middlebury Milton, Montpelier and St. Albans—ridership sets a new record, about 200,000 for the year and a growth of over 11% after a 14% increase last year. From another standpoint about 440 workers now make their way back and forth to work on one of the 50 Link buses. At the current growth rate that number will increase to about 500 this time next year, a number approaching 2% of all workers who cross the Burlington border to their jobs each weekday.
Pretty good growth numbers considering little change in the employment numbers statewide, a decline in car travel 2010-2011, and a state population increase Census estimates at 11 persons a month since the 2010 official counts.
Some of the growth of the decade-old Link services operated mostly by the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) occurred as the result of active programs to reduce solo driving, particularly by three of the largest employers in Burlington, the “troika” of Champlain College, Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) and the University of Vermont (UVM). The “troika” works through their joint small entity, the Campus Area Transportation Management Association (CATMA) which undertakes a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging and rewarding their 10,000 employees and 16,000 students to switch from solo driving to car share, walking, bicycling and taking public transit. Discount or free transit, for example, is offered students and workers by CATMA, including Link bus services. And, the numbers taking Link and other transit services reflects the CATMA efforts to reduce solo driving which is called in transportation language the realm of “demand management.” The goals of demand management may vary, but the central mission in demand management is to reduce the use of certain transportation facilities so as to avoid expensive capital expenditures to increase capacity—assuming increasing capacity is even possible in a given situation (consider the cost, for example, of widening Main Street in downtown Brattleboro or Bennington).
The future looks bright for “demand management” as increasingly young driving age population aged 15-30 no longer even have a driver license and efforts in the demand management remain in the early stages of development. CATMA is beginning to work with the State’s largest public employer, IBM in Essex, for example. Further, the largest State employer, the State of Vermont itself, until now stayed on the sidelines in providing support or alternatives to solo commuting. But a sudden scarcity of parking in Montpelier caused by relocation of workers after loss of State facilities from the storm Irene in the fall of 2011 resulted just recently in starting demand management on the part of the State. A few dollars a month cost to the State to convince an employee to drop solo commuting pales by comparison to the $600 for a ground level parking space per year and up to $30,000 to $40,000 per space capital cost in a parking garage.
Meanwhile, CCTA this year added larger buses to handle the highest ridership Link between Burlington and Montpelier—also growing at the highest rate of 13% since last year. Finally, the growth of Link services and demand management programs confirm the findings in a recent study touting the potential for commuter rail services along the corridors from Burlington to Middlebury, Montpelier and St. Albans.