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Major Expansion for Upper Valley Bus Services

  • Riders exit an Advance Transit green line bus at the Kilton Library in West Lebanon Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Advance Transit has received the funding to add a second bus to its green route from West Lebanon through Hartford and Norwich to Hanover.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Riders exit an Advance Transit green line bus at the Kilton Library in West Lebanon Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Advance Transit has received the funding to add a second bus to its green route from West Lebanon through Hartford and Norwich to Hanover.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Riders exit an Advance Transit green line bus at the Kilton Library in West Lebanon Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Advance Transit has received the funding to add a second bus to its green route from West Lebanon through Hartford and Norwich to Hanover.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

White River Junction — Bus service in the Twin States will be bolstered this summer when two area bus companies add or expand services with the help of federal grants.

Advance Transit recently secured grant money to add a second bus to its Green Route, which primarily serves the Route 5 corridor from White River Junction to Hanover, and includes Hartford Village and West Lebanon. With the addition, buses on the route will run every 30 minutes instead of hourly.

Additionally, Vermont Translines, based in Milton, Vt., has announced the start Monday of daily, round-trip bus service along the Route 4 corridor from Rutland to Lebanon, with multiple Upper Valley stops. The route is currently unserved.

Green Light for Green Route Bus

The additional Green Route bus will begin operating July 7, according to Van Chesnut, executive director of Advance Transit, who said the added trips will improve connections with the bus service’s four other main routes and accommodate more riders each hour.

The second bus will bring hourly service to Hartford Village, which currently receives just periodic coverage throughout the day.

The Green Route serves 235 riders a day, with roughly one-third of them commuting to work at Dartmouth College. The second bus is expected to boost ridership more than 20 percent in the first year and 5 percent annually for the next two years, according to the company’s development plan.

“We think this is going to be a success, and we think we will have good ridership and productivity,” Chesnut said. “We are really excited about this, because on the Vermont side of the river, we haven’t had a major improvement in the service since 2000.”

Others welcomed the news.

West Lebanon resident Suzanne Carrigan, who was waiting to board a Green Route bus near Hartford High School on Route 5 last week, said she was happy about the increased service.

“It is going to be great,” said Carrigan, who rides Advance Transit buses frequently. “It will help me get places quicker.”

Maureen Wilson, a paraprofessional at Hartford High School, said the service would benefit the school’s Regional Resource Center, which provides educational programming to special needs students in Hartford and other Upper Valley school districts.

“A big part of our teaching is how to ride the bus,” Wilson said while standing with a group of students at the bus stop in front of the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon last week. “We would love to see two buses on half-hour runs. It would help our schedule.”

The Vermont Agency of Transportation awarded Advance Transit a three-year federal grant, which will provide about $200,000 annually for operating costs. Under the grant, Advance Transit must contribute about $50,000 in matching funds each year.

Chesnut said a 2012 study concluded Advance Transit should focus on improving its existing routes before expanding hours or adding additional routes. Putting another bus on the Green Route rose to the top of the list, he said.

“It was obviously seen by VTrans as a good proposal and a good use of funds,” Chesnut said of the competitive pool from which the company was selected for grant funding. “We are very excited.”

New Ride to Rutland

On Monday, a Vermont Translines coach bus, which offers individual seats, a bathroom and Wi-Fi, will begin offering daily, round-trip service between Rutland and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s campus off Route 120, said Randy Charlebois, general manager and vice president of Vermont Translines.

The bus is scheduled to depart Rutland at 10:30 a.m. and make nine stops, including Mendon, Sherburne and Killington, Vt., as well as the Upper Valley locations of Bridgewater, Woodstock, Quechee, White River Junction and Hanover, before reaching DHMC at 12:30 p.m.

It will depart the hospital at 2:35 p.m. and is scheduled to return to Rutland at 4:35 p.m., with stops at the same points on the way back.

“We are hoping to be able to connect different people from different communities and meet their needs so that they have a means of transportation that is affordable,” Charlebois said.

“It will also be eco-friendly and reliable, and we don’t feel like (potential riders) have that today.”

The company created the new bus line with two main purposes in mind: To provide a service to those who lack means of transportation and to connect travelers with other bus systems in Vermont and New Hampshire.

A round-trip ticket from Rutland to White River Junction will cost $22, while a round-trip ticket from Rutland to Lebanon will run $26. All ticket prices are based on mileage.

A prior study suggested 12 passengers a day would use the service, though that number is expected to increase over time, Vermont Translines Assistant Manager Chip Desautels said.

“There is tremendous excitement about having these connections,” Desautels said.

Roughly a decade ago, Vermont Transit offered bus service along the Route 4 corridor, Charlebois said, but the route has been dormant for some time. This line will help restore that missing link, he said.

Also on Monday, Vermont Translines, a subsidiary of Premier Coach, which bills itself as Vermont’s “largest charter service provider for motorcoach,” will launch a new line along Route 7 from Burlington to Albany, N.Y., Charlebois said.

Like Advance Transit, the company’s route expansions are being paid for by a federal grant — roughly $400,000 over two years — that was awarded through the state Agency of Transportation.

Roughly $100,000 of the grant will go toward operating the Rutland-Lebanon route, while the remainder will subsidize the Route 7 service.

Once Advance Transit and Vermont Translines grant funding ends, officials said, they hope to secure additional funding to assist with continued operation of the services.

Upper Valley Haven Executive Director Sara Kobylenski said the expanded bus services will improve the daily lives of Upper Valley residents.

She said a second Advance Transit bus on the Green Route, which serves the Haven shelter on Route 5 in Hartford, will mean shorter lines at the food pantry and quicker trips back home with groceries, as well as better access to medical appointments.

“The reality that (riders) may be able to spend less than an hour and a half to get from the Haven to DHMC by having more flexibility with this Green line is a huge contribution to the capacity to function on a daily basis,” Kobylenski said.

The Haven’s board of directors voted in May to make a $1,000 contribution toward Advance Transit’s funding match. Advance Transit doesn’t charge a fare to riders on any routes.

“We hope that by participating in that way, we can encourage other not-for-profit organizations and businesses that are impacted by this line to help with a match,” Kobylenski said.

Chesnut, of Advance Transit, said Hanover voters also committed $10,000 to the grant match during Town Meeting in May. Chesnut said he intends to reach out to the other five towns Advance Transit serves during Town Meeting next year.

“Anything we can do to help facilitate bus use, no matter where the ride begins, is a good thing for the region and, to the extent the route includes downtown Hanover, will likely help reduce vehicle traffic on our already fairly congested downtown streets,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin wrote in an email. “Hanover looks at this region in a very organic way.”

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