Public Transportation in Vermont

An Assessment of Applicable Methods of Improvement and Funding for Vermont Transportation
PRS Briefs
PRS Policy Brief 0809-03
Sunday, March 1, 2009

Due to the lack of cohesion within Vermont Transportation system, the ability to have an enhanced unified system secured financially has been on ongoing issue. The current twenty six transportation systems of Vermont have been able to operate themselves through various forms of localized and federal funding and contributing agencies; but the need for a unified transportation system is essential for economic feasibility and better service for commuters throughout the state.

Questions we considered in this report include:

  • How can Vermont coordinate its public transportation systems effectively?
  • How can a feasible plan to coordinate Vermont transportation be implemented successfully?

In identifying the current agency systems of Vermont, their funding methods and comparing this analysis to other local states’ transportation system and funding methods, an improved system can be identified for the state of Vermont. Essentially, the issue of improving Vermont transportation is not only suppressed by lack of effective integrating system ideas but also financial restraints sweeping the nation.

Reasons for Vermont’s dysfunctional transportation system include:

  • Variance in population density of the state with few centers of dense population but dominance of relatively low population levels
  • Variance in available public transit through local and regional public transportation services being provided by thirteen agencies, including one regional authority, one transit district, two towns, and nine private non-profit corporations.
  • In recent years, the market for commuter express services has been growing, and new routes but irregular have been established to meet that demand
  • There is significant lack of public transit coverage in some areas of Vermont compared to other areas around the state.
  • There is often a large disconnect between the areas that the public providers say they cover and the reality of where they actually have routes and services.
  • This map shows where there is lack of public transit coverage, in terms of bus routes and Fixed and Deviated Fixed services.
  • Currently there are several options for mass transportation in Vermont.
  • Vermont boasts an interstate bus service as well as once-a-day rail service offered by Amtrak.
    • Vermont currently has a substantial amount of track in place which, while not sufficiently expansive to serve at the local level, does a good job connecting areas with relatively high population density to one another.
  • Various services including: public transit routes, rail, carpool and vanpool services, and park and ride information are all linked together in the Go Vermont program with centralized method of operation.
  • Vermont has 27 State Park-and-Rides facilities and lots located throughout the state. These locations make it easier for commuters and consumers to connect with public transit services, and can also be used in conjunction with carpooling and vanpooling options
    • Park-and-Ride facilities are an effective method for reducing traffic congestion, decreasing the use of fossil fuel, while minimizing fuel emissions, providing connectivity between Park-and-Ride facilities and inter-regional public transit routes and saving valuable urban land for more aesthetically appealing and productive uses

Funding for Vermont’s current public transportation services is extremely varied and lacks the cohesion of a state-implemented solution. Therefore, to serve as points of comparison for a potential statewide public transportation effort, several other companies were identified and analyzed.

  • In doing so, a fare free system, a contract based system and the typical fare system are analyzed for comparison.
  • Across the six systems there is a great diversity in the source of funding each receives and its relation to the total amount of operating funds required.
  • All six received a significant portion of their funding from federal coffers; however, variance in state funding was great among the companies.
  • The charging usage fees may discourage overall ridership.
  • On average across the companies, a full time employee is hired for every 20,000 rides on buses.
  • This ridership intensity of Vermont’s CCTA is unique especially when population density is taken into account.

Also considered are the efforts that other states are making in consolidating their own public transportation systems.

  • There are currently efforts in regions of multiple states attempting to coordinate public transportation on a regional level with the goal of reducing costs and eliminating or decreasing gaps in transit coverage
  • The coordination between human services programs and other rural transit programs pools all the funding and resources from the different sources with the ultimate goal of providing better coverage and efficiency over the entire region

With the newly incorporated option to turn to regionalization and integrating with the school transportation system, along with the current financial opportunity of the stimulus bill, Vermont currently has the opportunity it needs to finally improve the transportation system effectively. All of this considered our policy recommendations for the state of Vermont are as follows:

  • It may be worthwhile for Vermont to consider aggregating and coordinating the thirteen different transportation systems a regional rather than county scale
  • Along with federal and state aid, a solid list of contributors from educational institutions is a good option to fund a transportation system in Vermont as the state boasts 24 different colleges and numerous pre college educational institutions.
  • Vermont has received $126 million under the Federal Stimulus package titled American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider focusing on improving transportation systems within Vermont to make sure that more time is spent using the stimulus funds appropriately instead of finding loopholes within the allocation criteria.