Regional Transit Partnership briefed on efforts to use public transit fleets in Vermont to carry students to school

In the nearly five years the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership has been in existence, there have been many conversations about how various systems might be made more efficient. One idea that has been discussed is the combination of transportation for school pupils with regular transit. 

“For Burlington, the school district has a handful of school buses for special needs kids but the majority of the school population rides Green Mountain Transit buses to school,” said Peggy O’Neill Vivanco, the Vermont Clean Cities Coordinator. 

At their meeting on April 28, 2022, the members of the Regional Transit Partnership learned about efforts in Burlington, Vermont to do just that. Those efforts stemmed from a commonly asked question in the Green Mountain State. 

“Why do we have two public transit systems?” asked Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. “One for students, one for the public. That’s really inefficient. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the public on school buses because school buses go everywhere and they go places that are hard to reach by transit.”

Wallace-Brodeur said a group came together to study the issue with funding from the Vermont Agency of Transportation as well as the Energy Action Network.

“We started out by looking at where our public transit system is currently providing services that students can access,” Wallace-Brodeur said. “There had been some research done for one of our regional planning commissions on the topic where they really dug into some of the legal issues and some of the other challenges that could come with this.” 

Wallace-Brodeur said the best path forward was to adjust public transit to provide more service to middle school and high school students. 

“Anybody can ride the bus,” Wallace-Brodeur said. “There’s really no barrier to that. Anyone can ride the bus including little kids, older adults, anybody. The general public can get on the bus. Not so for school buses.”

Some of that work extended to the exurbs of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. Wallace-Brodeur said the group worked with school systems that were open to the idea. Two goals are to build lifelong transit riders and to fill service gaps.

“One of the things we hear a lot about is that students can’t access some after school activities if there isn’t a late bus or something that can get kids home after extracurriculars so if students don’t have personal transportation, they miss out on really important opportunities which then becomes an equity issue,” Wallace-Brodeur said. 

How does it work? 

Jamie Smith is the director of marketing and planning for Green Mountain Transit.

“We operate during the school year ten additional routes,” Smith said. “The [Federal Transit Administration] doesn’t really allow traditional school transportation to be operated by a public transit agency but they do allow for us to increase our capacity during the academic school year,” Smith said.  

Wallace-Brodeur said there had been an attempt to reroute some rural transit routes in eastern Vermont to serve a pair of high schools, but that ran into some obstacles due to COVID. Mike Reiderer is with Tri-Valley Transit which serves Addison, Orange, and northern Windsor counties with commuter routes. He pointed out that many school children are transit-dependent until they have a driver’s license and a car. 

“We were looking at an addition to one of these routes that would be able to transfer students basically from one high school to another to take more advantage of those after school opportunities,” Reiderer said. “Worked great, great partnership, really great information sharing that really culminating in our ability to provide that service. I think it was one of those instances where COVID came to bite us once again.”

Reiderer said he hopes that partnership can be resumed by the next school year. 

Speaking of schools, the Burlington area is home to several institutions of higher education, such as the University of Vermont. Smith explains that an entity called the Chittenden Area Transport Management Association runs a transportation demand management program that seeks to get more people on buses, including university and college students.

“And we have an agreement with them, an unlimited access agreement where students are able to use their IDs to ride for free in our system,” Smith said. 

The University of Vermont also has its own system of shuttle buses that run the inner loop of their campus in Burlington which has a student population of about 13,300. Champlain College also has a bus that runs throughout their campus. 

I’ll have more from the April 28, 2022 meeting of the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership in a future edition of the program. If you can’t wait, take a look at the meeting on YouTube now. So far, there are 3 views. Why not give it the Charlottesville Community Engagement bump?

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the May 10, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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