Harrington: Green Mass Transit

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(Host) On a recent morning, commentator Elaine Harrington joined other early commuters at the Waterbury Park-and-Ride to wait for the bus that would take them to Burlington.

(Harrington) It’s 6:45 a.m. and 26 degrees. Cars pull into the lot, and drivers hop onto the big blue bus. A few folks arrive on foot, but we’re all ready to relax – and save 52 miles of driving on the round trip to Burlington. We enter the cozy bus, our early morning world, for the trip to work at Fletcher Allen Health Care, UVM, or downtown Burlington.

I settle into my favorite seat – with student essays, a mug of tea, an iPod, and some knitting. Around me people open novels, nursing textbooks, and Sudoko puzzles. They connect their Macs and iPads to the Wi-Fi system. Some sip coffee; others curl up for a nap. We head northwest on I-89, through the mountains and along the Winooski River valley. The pink sunrise reflects off Camel’s Hump and remnants of foliage – on the oaks, beech, and tamaracks – glow.

Mass transit seems too good to be true in this rural state of very long commutes to work. Yet this Montpelier Link Express bus is one of many run by the Chittenden County Transportation Authority each weekday. CCTA was chartered in 1973 by the Vermont Legislature. Last year it provided 2½ million rides on fixed routes in northwestern and central Vermont.

The Link buses began service to Montpelier in 2003. A Middlebury route was added in 2004, and one to St. Albans in 2005. These are long trips – with significant impact for riders and the environment. CCTA’s mission is “…to reduce congestion and pollution, encourage transit-oriented development, and enhance the quality of life for all.”

Evening trips home seem the time for chatting. Books, films, work, kids, gardens, politics – I’ve even exchanged garlic varieties and brought 14 students on a field trip.

The buses are clean and the drivers courteous, but commuters must learn patience and tolerance. We bundle up for waiting outside and become open-minded about seatmates. CCTA has a code of behavior that keeps things civil.

The mid-day bus from Montpelier to Burlington carries a different crowd. On one trip a young man softly played the banjo, and a mother read “Little House on the Prairie” to her daughter. An older couple said they felt “European,” taking the bus to the city for dinner.

People without cars use the CCTA system for travel around Vermont. They can go from Burlington to St. Johnsbury with transfer to a van. There’s even a new bus for state workers displaced by Hurricane Irene. It brings them from the flooded Waterbury complex to their temporary locations at IBM and elsewhere.

I drove to work the other day. And it felt odd. The 40 minutes each way in the car were not very productive – and gas and parking added up to ten dollars.

I definitely prefer my green alternative.

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