Regarding the editorial "Buses to nowhere," I agree that Southwestern Vermont is underserved by public transportation. However, as a non-driver I have found that "you can get there from here." But it takes some work.
Locally, Bennington has the Green Mountain Express, which goes to most markets, stores, medical centers, state offices, and colleges for just 50 cents a trip. If you want to venture a bit farther, the Green Mountain Express provides buses from Bennington to Arlington and Manchester, and to Pownal and Williamstown. At the Williams Inn you can connect to the Berkshire County public bus or to the Peter Pan Bus, which links to New York, Springfield, Providence, and Boston.
In addition, Yankee Trails runs buses between Bennington, Hoosick Falls, Troy, and the Albany Greyhound Station. These buses are reliable, comfortable, and a bargain at $4 or less per ride. If you ask, the driver will give you a free all-day transfer to the Capital District bus system, which will take you to the Amtrak Station, Albany Airport, Albany Medical Center, Crossgates Mall, the New York State Museum, and many other places.
Most people here don’t know that the bus to Albany exists. The route is subsidized by Rensselaer County primarily to serve Hoosick and the N.Y. Route 7 corridor. Yankee Trails has little incentive to make its presence more visible in Bennington. The bus stop on School Street has no sign, the bus company does not advertise the route, and the Green Mountain Express drivers don’t have copies of the Yankee Trails schedule. Even the "Visitor Info" tab on the Banner website is silent about public transportation options.
Evening and weekend services are sorely lacking. If you want to take the bus to a school board meeting or a movie, you are out of luck.
Most routes quit at 5 p.m. The Peter Pan bus goes to Williamstown seven days a week, but the Green Mountain Express makes the connection Monday through Friday only. Similarly, Yankee Trails is a weekday-only service, making resources in Albany unavailable on Saturday and Sunday.
While Vermont has regional transit systems similar to the Green Mountain Express in almost every county, long distance travel within the state is rough. I can take "the bus" from Bennington to Burlington, but it requires transfers in Manchester, Rutland and Middlebury. Because the connections are not synchronized, several extended layovers occur along the way, and I certainly can’t return the same day.
At this time Bennington has no bus going east up Route 9. In July, Green Mountain Express is expected to start a new route to Brattleboro, which is served by both Greyhound and Amtrak. I hope the new bus will be timed to meet the inter-city carriers which stop there.
The essential components of the public transit network exist. The roadblocks to successful utilization are transparency, communication and coordination. Leadership is needed from the Bennington County Regional Commission, the Green Mountain Community Network, the Chamber of Commerce, and the town of Bennington.
It should not be too complex or too expensive to accomplish one or more of the following tasks:
* post links to all transportation services on websites for the town, chamber, and Banner.
* improve bus stop signage and shelters at potential high-volume locations, such as the hospital.
* make sure that bus drivers have copies of connecting bus system schedules to give to their passengers.
* create a single website which provides point-to-point instructions for travel connections anywhere within Vermont.
* assist Green Mountain Express to gather accurate data and broad public opinion to effectively organize and upgrade its services.
* persuade the state Department of Transportation to establish basic inter-operability among the various county bus systems regarding connecting services, ticketing, website features, and schedule format.
An integrated public transportation system would have many advantages in promoting commerce and tourism, reducing traffic and air pollution, improving access for everyone to local stores and services, and providing opportunities to explore the world.
Peter Rubin lives in Bennington.