For the past few years, the Town of Thetford has appropriated $3,200 to Tri-Valley Transit (TVT, formerly Stagecoach). You can find this line item in the Town Report under Appropriations in the municipal budget. This year, they’ll be asking for the same amount (level funding).
TVT receives roughly 80% of its funding from state and federal sources and approximately 20% from local sources such as businesses, institutions, and individual donors. Of that 20%, approximately a quarter (or 5% of their total spending) comes from municipal appropriations.
The River Route has been serving Thetford for years via scheduled stops at the Thetford Park and Ride. The route provides commuters with public transportation between Wells River and Hanover, Lebanon, and White River where passengers can make connections to Advance Transit, Dartmouth Coach, Amtrak, and Greyhound. It includes connections at DHMC and the VA hospital.
Mike Reiderer, Community Relations Manager for TVT, said that the route had continued demand during the pandemic, likely due to healthcare workers commuting to and from area hospitals. Other routes, however, saw decreased usage, such as a line that serves Montpelier used primarily by state employees who had, for the most part, converted to working from home. During the height of the pandemic when bus capacity was restricted to less than 50%, Mike said they were asking River Route commuters to drive themselves if they could, otherwise they’d potentially be turning away those who had no other transportation alternative.
In 2020, TVT introduced a new service in Thetford, the Thetford Connector, which provides service between Thetford, Strafford, and Sharon. The route was in the works pre-pandemic and, despite decreased ridership in general due to public health concerns, TVT opted to move forward with the new service .
We put this in operation in the fall of 2020 to provide a link between the I-91 and I-89 corridors and have since made route modifications to help residents of Strafford, Thetford, and Sharon access our interstate commuter routes as well as service to Thetford Academy and Sharon Academy.
The Thetford Connector is served by the smaller, 14-passenger buses.
“Sharon Academy had reached out to us about some of their needs,” Mike said. Once TVT had developed some solutions, they took their ideas to Thetford Academy and Vermont Law School. In fact, the state is looking in part towards Orange East Supervisory Union, which includes Thetford, to pilot a discussion regarding possible overlap between school bus and public transit networks. There are no definitive proposals as to what that would look like yet, but the conversation is underway.
TVT has some other exciting news, too: they’re expecting to purchase four electric buses. Funded by a grant, the buses would not replace combustion-engine buses yet. Instead, the fleet size would grow by four while TVT experiments with the buses on rural routes and in colder weather, and gets a better understanding of their maintenance needs and effective range. Mike says two of those buses are slated to be stationed at their Bradford transportation center and commuters could see an electric bus on the River Route, “maybe in a year.”
TVT has some exciting news at their Bradford center as well: a brand-new facility. Located just behind the Bradford Park and Ride, the facility boasts super-insulated walls, heat pumps, and “more solar than the facility can use.” The heat pumps are supplemented by a wood pellet furnace. The facility also has a rainwater and snowmelt catchment system. Water is collected in a tank and used to clean buses, which are washed after every shift.
Mike said that passengers like to joke, “Great new building, but your roof is on upside down!” It’s no laughing matter, however. When a similar system was installed at the Randolph center, the facility manager was surprised when their metered water usage was less than his own residential usage.
The facility is a huge improvement over the smaller facility TVT was previously leasing in Bradford, which even their smallest 14-passenger buses barely fit in. “We were asking drivers to wash buses outside in the winter, which just isn’t practical,” Mike said.
What does this cost riders? Nothing. Mike explained: “Since the start of the COVID pandemic all of our routes have operated fare free in an effort to eliminate contact between drivers and riders and to reduce financial barriers for people facing economic challenges during the pandemic. The fare free policy will remain in effect through our 2022 fiscal year (through June 2022) and we will examine the effects of this policy to determine future plans.”
TVT also operates a less visible but incredibly important Dial-A-Ride service that provides door-to-door transportation to people in need. Various programs make this a free service to people with disabilities, elders over 60 years of age, individuals and families eligible for Medicaid transportation and some other qualifying groups. Most frequently these trips are provided by volunteers driving their own vehicles but wheelchair accessible vans and buses are available when needed.
When asked about TVT’s plans for the future, Mike said that they are always looking at unmet needs. During the pandemic, for example, they’ve played a crucial role in meal delivery, a service that is still on-going and might continue as a permanent program. Mike explained that awareness of community needs often comes through community input, and they accept suggestions on their website. “Of course, transportation service is expensive, so not every idea is able to be put on the road, but if we have enough evidence that a route would be used and can secure local match funds there is a better chance of it being awarded funds to be put in place,” Mike said.
Photo credit: Nick Clark