Public transportation demand to outpaces funding

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(Host) High gas prices have persuaded more Vermonters to leave their cars at home and take the bus to work.

Advocates say that helps the environment and saves wear-and-tear on the highways. But they say the demand has begun to outstrip the state’s ability to pay for public transit.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Commuter routes have become so popular in some areas of the state that the buses are overflowing.

The Chittenden County Transportation Authority’s LINK Express between Montpelier and Burlington is one example.

(Cole) "And we have a bus that comes over from Montpelier in the morning that has standees every day.”

(Sneyd) Chris Cole is the general manager of CCTA.

(Cole) "That is a testament to the desire of Vermonters to want to use this service that they’re willing to stand for an hour from Montpelier into Burlington and we’re struggling with how do we cobble together the money just to put one more run just so people will have a seat.”

(Sneyd) State officials also want to figure out how to accommodate the interest in public transit.

Representative Sue Minter of Waterbury serves on the House Transportation Committee.

She believes there ought to be new ways to get people from one place to another.

(Minter) "The problem we face is we have 12 different regional entities that provide transit service just in their area. What we need to see is a service that can be seamless so that there is one company, one transit provider who can get from Burlington to Bennington.”

(Sneyd) Minter also thinks the state has to come up with new ways of paying for transportation in a time of declining gasoline tax revenues.

A state study has begun about how to prioritize transportation projects in the state and establish funding for them.

Minter points out, though, that solutions won’t be simple because there are so many competing demands.

(Minter) "Public transportation is subsidized here in Vermont and across this country and it takes place within a wider context. … We are what we consider in the transportation world hitting a perfect storm in transportation. We have a rapidly aging infrastructure in Vermont. We have declining revenues coming into the Transportation Fund and dramatically escalating construction costs.”

(Sneyd) The study on reorganizing transportation is due to be delivered to the Legislature by January 15th. Minter says that report will provide some ideas for lawmakers to consider when they return to Montpelier.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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