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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

EZ Trips Updates Transit Routes, Provides On Demand Ride Service

The new EZ Transit routes will extend transportation opportunities to individuals who currently have no access.
The new EZ Transit routes will extend transportation opportunities to individuals who currently have no access.

In an effort to improve transportation accessibility, Tri Valley Transit (TVT) announced the launch of EZ Trips on April 10, a free door-to-door on-demand ride service in Middlebury. Launched on May 8, the service is a potential substitute for services like Uber or Lyft, which do not exist in the area.

TVT currently operates the Middlebury Shuttle Bus on five neighborhood routes from Monday through Saturday: Porter Medical Center, Marble Works, Shaw’s Grocery, the college and Hannaford Supermarket. 

The transit service also currently offers the Dial-a-Ride program, a personal door-to-door transportation system catering to the elderly, disabled and Medicaid recipients. However, Dial-a-Ride requires booking rides at least two days in advance and relies on volunteer drivers and their vehicles.

Mary-Claire Crogan, the community relations manager for TVT’s Addison County region, described the new EZ Trips program as a hybrid between the current bus services and Dial-a-Ride program. It offers the flexibility to book rides within the operation zone, and users can book rides online, via the EZ Trip app, or by calling TVT during operating hours. 

After making a reservation, an EZ Trip van will promptly pick up passengers as close to their requested location as possible and drop them off as close to their destination as possible. Depending on van proximity and traffic conditions, wait times are estimated to range from seven to 30 minutes. 

“This is exciting because we're able to serve a much larger trip zone, so people who currently have no access to rides will be getting new access,” Crogan told The Campus. “They don't have to wait for that hourly schedule to come back around.” 

Maya Murtuza-Lanier ’27.5 described having challenges navigating the current transit system, and echoed Crogan’s enthusiasm for the launch of EZ trips. With the introduction of the service, Murtuza-Lanier said she anticipates going into town more frequently. 

Murtruza-Lanier recalled wanting to go into town to buy cake mix for her birthday, but she had been feeling sick all week and wanted to avoid the walk there and back. 

“I really did not want to go to town and did not have the energy to go into town and would have loved to take the bus into town, but couldn’t and didn't really feel like figuring out the bus system,” she said. “So I ended up walking anyway, but then had to chill for the rest of the day because I was so tired from walking into town while sick.”

The EZ Trips operating zone extends down Route 7 to the Sugarhouse Motel, about 3.5 miles from campus, where Crogan said some community members are housed. The zone also encompasses the Middlebury campus, parts of the town of Weybridge, and extends to Lower Foote Street and Happy Valley Road — two neighborhoods the current transit system does not serve. 

To decide on these routes, TVT worked with experts in the area to conduct a feasibility study that considered factors such as popular destinations, neighborhood concentrations and the residences of frequent Dial-a-Ride users. EZ Trips will replace the Middlebury Shuttle Bus Monday through Friday routes called Hospital, Marble Works, Shaw’s and College. The transit system will revert back to the original one on Saturdays due to limited weekend staffing. 

Middlebury’s EZ Trips will replace the Monday through Friday routes, named: Hospital, Marble Works, Shaw’s and College — the Hannaford route will continue operating as normal On Saturdays, the transit system will revert back to the current one in place due to limited weekend staffing. 

Adirondack Circle on campus will be a new stop on the Hannaford transit route, created so that students do not need to walk to Academy Street to be picked up. 

EZ Trips was first proposed by the state to expand access to rides for the town’s vulnerable members. The existing Dial-a-Ride program lacks a sufficient number of volunteer drivers, and TVT only has funding to allow six dial rides per month per individual. 

With the launch of EZ Trips, Crogan hopes that existing Dial-a-Ride users can more easily fulfill daily activities like shopping, haircuts and social meetups. Meanwhile, Dial-a-Ride will still be in operation for community members that require one-on-one services. 

Intensive planning for the EZ Trips initiative began with a feasibility study in 2022, followed by collaboration with a software developer to design algorithms for the system. 

Given Middlebury’s existing transit infrastructure, however, planning for EZ Trips presented challenges. Community members rely heavily on public transit and have grown accustomed to established routes — Crogan stressed that this transition could be daunting for riders with cognitive disabilities. 

To address these concerns, Crogan has been speaking at senior living facilities and adult daycare centers in the area over the past two months. She also met with community members who may have low reading abilities or cognitive disabilities to help customize their travel arrangements. 

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“We're not going to leave them behind,” Crogan said. 

Through a combination of federal grant fundraising and independent donors, TVT acquired four new vans for the launch of EZ trips that are outfitted with wheelchair lifts, Crogan said. 

Two of the four vans are electric, which is TVT’s first attempt to work towards Vermont’s carbon reduction goals: 10% transit fleet electrification by 2025 and 100% by 2050. 

In addition to electrification, EZ Trips retains the ride-sharing component of public transit. Crogan explained that two vans will operate simultaneously, with rides batched in a way that makes sense geographically. 

Tara Federoff, a sustainability specialist at the college, commended TVT for initiating this personalized ride-sharing program. 

Federoff highlighted a Department of Energy study revealing that over 75% of individual car trips are under ten minutes long, contributing to environmental harm through carbon emissions and particulate pollution from chemicals, microplastics, and tires.

“Public transportation is notoriously difficult (and often expensive!) in the US and particularly in rural areas like Vermont, so seeing this accessible, affordable initiative is really exciting and it seems like it will be really beneficial for many community members and hopefully reduce individual vehicle use,” Federoff wrote in an email to The Campus.