NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The Green Mountain Community Network is set to expand its services next month ahead of the grand opening of its new transit center on Pleasant Street.
Executive Director Donna Baker said the nonprofit group has recently completed surveys about its services and is adjusting a main route, and adding new service to Wilmington. She said GMCN is working to expand its public transportation offering within the constraints of its funding.
"The fact of the matter is there is a finite amount of money available for the services. The other thing is, you can’t do everything. This is not New York City. It’s not even a small city. You have to make do with what you have and we constantly fight population density and we fight the geography because it’s not laid out like a city," Baker said.
About 95 percent of respondents in a recent survey said they were interested in seeing services offered later into the evening. As a result, the most popular route has been extended by two hours until 7 p.m., Baker said.
"The popular route, the one that most people would want to see extended, is the red line, which is the one that goes out to the shopping centers. That’s the one that we’ve extended for two hours," Baker said.
For now, that is the most the line can be extended, she said. "That’s all we can afford, and that’s all our grants will permit," Baker said.
However, GMCN has also made an effort to ensure that buses run at least every half hour. "We don’t want anyone to wait more than 30 minutes. It’s become very clear that people don’t wait more than 30 minutes," she said.
Meanwhile, a new emerald line will launch on July 9 that will provide service to Wilmington three times per day. The line will operate in partnership with the Moover line, run by Deerfield Valley Transit based in Wilmington. That will provide connections to Brattleboro and its Amtrak and Greyhound lines of service.
The survey indicated local residents need the line for medical appointments and shopping, Baker said. If the line is popular, it could be extended to provide more daily trips, she said.
"The fact of the matter is, if it works and it proves successful, we may be able to add some additional service. We have to prove it first. We’ve got three years to prove it," Baker said. "The success of the emerald line really depends on people learning about it and hearing about it and giving it a try. Is it perfect? No. I think it has enough to at least get us started."
The line to Manchester is also operating daily and has a steady ridership. "That was borne of a need for a commuter route to Manchester. That serves some students that go up to Burr and Burton. It serves some employees," Baker said. "That’s a pretty popular route, actually."
GMCN plans to hold a grand opening of its new transit center in late July or early August. Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders secured a $328,000 earmark for the development of a multi-modal transportation hub in Bennington. The funds have helped construct a large garage to house many of the GMCN’s 22 vehicles. A new waiting area will provide a safe space for patrons to await buses out of the weather.
Baker said GMCN hopes the Yankee Trails twice-daily bus to Albany, N.Y., will eventually utilize the space, along with local taxis.
GMCN’s progress since it split from the American Red Cross six years ago has been significant, Baker said. The group now has 24 employees, including 16 full-time employees. About 115,000 rides are being handled by GMCN each year, she said.
"It’s exceeded our expectations. It truly has," she said. "When you put it in perspective, every man, woman and child in Bennington County, theoretically, gets on one of our buses three times a year."
There is still room for growth among Bennington County residents, though, she said. "They love to know that it’s there, just in case they need it," Baker said. "But, to convince people to park their car and just use public transportation, that’s a tough one."
GMCN Board President Sharyn Brush said ridership increases when gas prices spike. "We did see increased ridership when gas was high," Brush said.
On the Web: www.greenmtncn.org