2016-04-13 / Front Page

SEVT looks to increase ridership on The Current

Survey analysis reveals shortcomings in bus frequency, hours
By Cameron Paquette
Springfield resident Francie Knight prepares to board one of The Current’s buses in front of the Edwin L. Huber building. — CAMERON PAQUETTESpringfield resident Francie Knight prepares to board one of The Current’s buses in front of the Edwin L. Huber building. — CAMERON PAQUETTESPRINGFIELD — The Current, a division of Southeast Vermont Transit that provides public transportation connecting Brattleboro, Springfield, Bellows Falls, Ludlow and the Upper Valley, is trying to find ways to increase ridership following a period of decline.

The Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission (SWCRPC) presented findings from a survey of riders and non-riders at two public meetings Tuesday to determine how the public feels the bus service could improve.

The Current General Manager Rebecca Gagnon said that the recommendations from the study will be examined and used as a base for further study, with the end goal being a set of changes made to the transit service to increase ridership and customer satisfaction.

“This was a preliminary low-cost study to start a larger feasibility study,” she said.

The two meetings at Springfield Town Hall took place at 11 a.m and 5 p.m. Residents brought up issues with the number and location of stops, hours and days of operation, and bus frequency at the morning meeting — issues that were identified by the study and reflected several of the 38 recommendations listed at the end of the study.

The survey netted 126 total respondents, with a roughly 50/50 split between riders and non-riders of The Current, according to Katharine Otto, project facilitator at SWCRPC.

The SWCRPC received a grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to distribute the survey online between Jan. 1 and Jan. 24 and analyze the results. The study examined the in-town Springfield and Bellows Falls routes, as well as the between-town routes for Bellows Falls, Springfield and Ludlow.

According to Gagnon, the bus company moved away from a donations-based model and started charging bus fares for riders in August 2014.

“We were averaging 87,000 rides and receiving less than $7,000 in donations. That’s less than a penny per ride,” she said.

Gagnon said the introduction of fares resulted in ridership taking “a nosedive.” Although some of the ridership in other communities has leveled out, ridership in Springfield has continued a steady decline.

“It’s been going down of its own accord,” said Otto.

The decreased ridership has also resulted in an increase in company costs. Costs that were around $7 or $8 per ride in 2014 can now be between $20 and $50.

“That’s a lot of cost to get one person from A to B. So if you can increase the ridership, you’ll decrease the cost,” said Otto.

Town Manager David Pisha, who attended the morning meeting, hopes that the plan can coincide with the town’s Master Plan grant in order to make public transit more effective in Chester.

“We hope to be able to connect various links to different organizations,” he said. “Right now there’s a lot of enthusiasm. This would bring those ideas into focus.”

Lisa Hall, transportation coordinator for the Springfield School District, also attended the morning meeting to discuss the possibility of adjusting The Current’s bus routes to stop at schools — one of the study’s recommendations.

“I’m hoping that the service can begin to serve students,” she said. “We have homeless families in temporary housing that aren’t on bus routes, but we need to get those kids to school.”

Comments on the draft report are due by Monday, April 18. The study report can be found here http://swcrpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Report-RouteEvaluationAndPlanning-DRAFT-22mar2016.pdf

Otto said the SWCRPC is aiming to finalize the report in early May, with a final report for the Southeast Vermont Transit board to be delivered June 6.

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