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Vt. Survey Asks Drivers For Details

White River Junction — Residents in four towns along the Route 5 corridor are being asked to participate in a commuter survey that could help shape future public transportation offerings.

Vital Communities, a White River Junction-based nonprofit, recently launched the online survey of residents in Hartford, Norwich, Windsor and Bradford to better understand their driving habits and the barriers that keep commuters from using existing public transit.

Vital Communities will use the data to consult with each town on expanding transportation options and raising awareness of existing offerings.

“Transportation is a major expense for many people in this area, commutes can be very long,” said Aaron Brown, transportation program manager for Vital Communities. “And transportation is our largest single source of energy use, so if we are serious about conserving energy, we really need to focus on transportation.”

Bob Haight, Windsor’s zoning administrator, said participating in the survey “just seemed like a logical fit” because of the town’s “commuter relationship” with towns such as Hartford, Lebanon and Hanover.

“A lot of people that live here work up that way,” Haight said.

Commuters in downtown Windsor temporarily have improved access to public transportation because the Hartland Park-and-Ride — where Connecticut River Transit buses usually pick up commuters — is under renovation. Buses are picking up riders downtown, eliminating the need for some to drive at all.

“There are some people I know that live downtown who can just leave their car completely now and get the bus,” Haight said.

Increasing the number of bus stops is one strategy for improving access to transportation. Another, Haight said, is developing a rideshare program that matches up individual drivers and riders to arrange transportation to work or to run errands.

“It’s the whole idea of having a way that you really could commute up through there without everyone having to have a car,” Haight said. “Some people are spending $30, $40, $50 a week on fuel. It is strange to think you are working up until your first coffee break just to cover the fuel it took to get to work.”

Hartford Planning and Development Director Lori Hirshfield said the survey results will help town officials better understand what residents want transportation-wise in town.

A carshare program, where cars can be rented for short time periods, exists in Hartford, Hirshfield said. And Advance Transit has a number of bus stops in town, but “they don’t cover everything,” she said.

Adding bus stations, establishing a bikeshare program and extending bicycling paths are a few options that could improve access to public transportation in Hartford.

“Not everyone has a car,” Hirshfield said. “And the other thing is to encourage people to get out of their cars.”

Norwich Planning and Zoning Director Phil Dechert said bettering public transportation improves commuting for all travelers.

“We want to look and see if there are other opportunities where people might want to have information or services provided to allow them to be able to commute in a more efficient and sustainable manner,” Dechert said.

In addition to Advance Transit providing services in town, Dechert said, Norwich has a small park-and-ride near the recreation fields at Huntley Meadows and has bike lanes on a few town streets.

Dechert said he is mainly looking for information out of the survey to “either confirm that the direction we are headed is right” or if “maybe we should be thinking about other things.”

The towns had to apply to participate in the survey and subsequent planning — known as the Smart Commute Home Edition program — and were selected based on demonstrated interest, size, and the resources available to make improvements, Brown said. Previously, Vital Communities has conducted similar surveys through dozens of area employers.

“We would like to take an individual approach to things in each town,” Brown said. “A program that makes sense for Norwich might not be the same program that makes sense for Bradford.”

Bradford Planning Commission Chairman Justin Klarich said the information gathered through the surveys will benefit the town’s master plan, which is currently being revised.

“A survey would be valuable information in this update,” Klarich said.

There is a well-used park-and-ride near the interstate in Bradford, and Stagecoach Transportation Services offers a bus between Bradford to Hartford twice a day, he said.

“The only trouble is its once in the morning and evening,” Klarich said. “Maybe this will be the very beginning of something way down the road that will develop. It would be great to see more public transportation options from here to (the Upper Valley).”

Residents in Hartford, Norwich, Windsor and Bradford can log onto http://vitalcommunities.org/townsurvey until May 16 to participate in the survey.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.