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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

ACTR expands, ridership increases

Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) expanded service in the county by 40 percent on March 8, and as a result, ridership has significantly increased. In March alone, transit use grew by 14 percent on the Middlebury Shuttle, 25 percent on the Tri-Town Shuttle and 55 percent on the Saturday LINK to Burlington. College student use of the Saturday LINK alone increased by 87 percent, according to the Executive Director of ACTR Jim Moulton.

The ACTR increased its services from Middlebury to Burlington on Saturdays from two to four trips. Among other changes to the ACTR schedule, the bus now runs direct services to Bristol and Vergennes.

Moulton and Nadine Barnicle, community relations manager of ACTR, made the changes in early March and have had the month to make small tweaks to the schedule before heavily advertising.

“We did a soft start to make sure we were getting the schedule right,” Barnicle said.

Now, the ACTR has started to run a widespread promotional campaign, advertising on the radio and in various newspapers. The company also printed 7,500 brochures, 2,000 of which went to Middlebury students in their mailboxes.

“It’s 40 percent more service, so we want 40 percent more riders,” Barnicle said.

Barnicle related the response from the community to the shape of a bell curve. She noted that some people who have called have loved the changes and some have complained, but most have comfortably adjusted to the new schedule and routes. These responses indicate to ACTR administrators that the new schedule will stick.

“I’m optimistic there won’t be major changes,” Barnicle said.

ACTR will publish an updated schedule with more exact arrival and departure times in October when they have significant data, collected over the course of many months.

However, with the short-term review, Moulton and Barnicle are pleased with how business has been affected. Moulton attributed part of the jump in ridership to changing gas prices.

“Fuel prices have been going up slowly but steadily over the past few weeks,” Moulton said. “A rise which always causes commuters to consider using public transportation.”

Additionally, Barnicle is optimistic that more and more people will take the bus because of climate issues.

“We’re really part of the solution to climate change,” Barnicle said. “Transportation is a part of the energy conundrum.”

She noted that 46 percent of Vermont’s carbon emissions come from transportation, a percentage that can be easily decreased.

Barnicle observed that in a crowded room of Vermonters, two- thirds of those in the room would likely raise their hand when asked who used alternative fuels and ate organically. However, she speculated, if you asked the same room, “how many people take public transportation”, only five or six hands might go up.

“They’re making other important lifestyle choices,” Barnicle said of Vermonters. “We have to make a public transportation system accessible to them.”
In keeping with this mission, ACTR will be one of the sponsors of the “Way to Go Commuter Challenge” this year. During the week of May 17-21, the “Way to Go” challenge will encourage people to use forms of transportation other than their car
“The hardest part is to take our first step to change our behavior,” Barnicle said. “It’s about making people look around and say, ‘wow, there are ways to get somewhere other than my car.’”

As Middlbury residents seek changes in their transportation routine, Barnicle mentioned that the College has also been supportive of ACTR and she encouraged students as well as staff to use the bus.

“It can be a pleasant experience.” Barnicle said. “It helps college students to get around and is great for commuters.”