Advance Transit looks at eliminating stop, getting federal funding

  • Justin Riley, of Hartford Village, relies on Advance Transit to make his weekly appointments at Bradford Psychiatric Associates in the Gilman Office Complex in White River Junction, Vt., Monday, Jan. 18, 2019. The local, free bus service is seeking Federal Highway Administration funding to avoid closing its Gilman Office Complex stop on the Orange Route. While the route has high ridership, the Gilman stop draws only about five riders a day. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Crystal Pelletier, left, and Thomas Bowen, both of White River Junction, take Advance Transit from the Gilman Office Complex in White River Junction, Vt., to the Listen Community Dinner downtown Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. The stop might be eliminated to improve efficiency on the Orange Route. "We definitely do a lot less walking when the bus is running," said Pelletier, who is currently living outside with Bowen. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2019

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Advance Transit is considering closing its stop at the Gilman Office Center but will seek Federal Highway Administration funding to help boost efficiency on its heavily traveled Orange Route, which could avert the move.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit public transportation group also is looking to add a route in White River Junction.

AT Executive Director Van Chesnut on Friday confirmed that the Gilman Center stop — a kiosk with benches stationed in the middle of one of the office complex’s parking lots off Holiday Drive — is being considered for closing because of slumping ridership.

Passenger boardings at the stop in recent years have dropped to about five per day, forcing the AT to consider its viability along one of its busiest routes.

According to a Vermont Agency of Transportation public transit performance review, the route — which has downtown stops in White River Junction, West Lebanon and Hanover — drew an average of 24 boardings per hour from July 2016 to June 2017, the highest among 26 “small town” routes surveyed.

The route carried a total of 77,671 passengers between summer 2017 and summer 2018, according to Chesnut.

“In a sense, the line has become a victim of its own success, because that level of ridership increases pressure on meeting schedules,” Chesnut said. “We do comprehensive passenger surveys every five years and when there is a stop (with low ridership), there are only so many minor adjustments you can make and still run the route safely and efficiently. We’ve found no other way to save time on the route other than to consider eliminating the spur down Holiday Drive (to the Gilman Center).”

Chesnut hopes the stop can be saved by adding a second bus to service White River Junction, a $200,000 annual investment of which 80 percent for the first three years would be funded by the FHA’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. It’s the same assistance that allowed AT to expand its Green Route service beginning in 2015.

AT intends to apply for the funding this spring and, if approved, begin increased Orange Route service in July. The second bus would create one extra trip to the route’s White River Junction stops — including in downtown, Gilman and the VA Medical Center — during the first half of every peak hour, then spend the second half of each peak hour servicing new stops along the Route 5 corridor in Hartford, an addition to be known as the Yellow Route.

“(The Yellow Route) would service areas that people have been clamoring for for some time, such as the Upper Valley Aquatic Center and the apartments on Bugbee Street,” Chesnut said. “It would run for eight hours per day during the busiest morning hours and the busiest afternoon/evening hours. During midday, it wouldn’t run and the existing Orange Route stops would be once per hour.”

If federal funding is not granted, the possibility for the Gilman Office Center stop to be discontinued would remain, with a tentative alternative plan to move its kiosk about ¼-mile north to a roadside area adjacent to the parking lot of Gateway Motors, across Sykes Mountain Avenue from Holiday Drive.

Gilman tenants such as Green Mountain Child Care executive director Sharon Miller-Dombroski hope Advance Transit will preserve the stop inside the complex. She sent a letter to AT in November after learning the stop may be relocated, raising what she feels would be safety issues for children whose parents use the bus to bring them to the nonprofit child care center.

“We have several families it would affect, and the biggest concern, of course, is for the little people,” said Miller-Dobroski in a Friday phone interview. “There are several children under the age of 5 who take the bus here. To have the stop be at the car dealership and have to cross Sykes Mountain Avenue, especially after dark, would not be safe. During (peak commute times), I don’t think anyone would want try to cross Sykes Mountain Avenue on foot.”

Andrew Winter, executive director of affordable housing nonprofit Twin Pines Housing, whose office is in the Gilman Center, said some residents and potential residents use the AT to access its office for paperwork and other business. Gilman is also home to other entities whose clients may not have ready access to a vehicle, including a Department of Motor Vehicles office and an office for Southeast Vermont Community Action, an anti-poverty organization.

“It’s great to have (an AT stop) here, and I’m sure those other organizations feel that way,” Winter said. “Having a strong public transportation system in general is very important to the vitality of our region. Almost all of our projects have access to AT stops; it’s something we look at very closely.”

Part of the Gilman Center stop’s recent ridership decline may be attributable to the 2016 relocation of state offices to a new building on Prospect Street. Nearly 40 percent of available space was vacant when Michael Riva, of Fayston, Vt., and his family business purchased the properties later that year.

Occupancy has been on the uptick since the Rivas invested in improvements, including the arrival of Twin Pines in 2017 and new digs for Hartford American Legion Post 26, which plans to open a function room and cafe there this year after going without a permanent home since 2012. The Hanover Consumer Co-operative Society also recently announced plans to move its business and administrative staff into the 15,500-square-foot space previously occupied by the state offices.

“There’s no question that proximity to an Advance Transit bus stop is valuable, no matter where you are in the Upper Valley,” said Allan Reetz, the Hanover Co-op’s spokesman. “That said, we understand that AT administrators have many factors to consider.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.