EDITORIAL: Insisting on a Safe, Accessible, 24-Hour Transit Center

by Nat Frothingham

Here’s a good idea. What about a taking a moment of total relaxation followed by a deep breath of satisfaction?

Now, let’s acknowledge all the players, the meetings, work, grit, patience, and follow-through with the One Taylor Street project—a project that includes a long-awaited and much-needed downtown Montpelier transit center, with a construction start date sometime this summer. 

Let’s not hit on all the obstacles that had to be surmounted in advance of starting construction. But these were the biggies:

In a recent phone contact with The Bridge, City Manager Bill Fraser said his earliest memory of the One Taylor Street project was a reference to a transit center in the first (city and state) Capital District Master Plan, produced in 2000.

As imagined in the early planning stages, the transit center has always been at the heart of the One Taylor Street project. It was only later on that the One Taylor Street project added a housing element. As first described, the transit center was conceived as a “Multi-modal Transit Center,” an almost visionary concept.

Why not create a transit center in downtown Montpelier that would promote transportation alternatives to the private automobile—alternatives such as short- and long-haul buses, trains, taxis, bicycles, and walking?

According to Fraser, voters in Montpelier approved an initial $800,000 bond with the aim of acquiring the Carr Lot by the Winooski River, in 2002.

But the Carr Lot was not without its problems. Even up until the 1970s, the Carr Lot had been a scrap metal salvage and processing yard. And before it could be converted to another use, it had to be cleaned up. So there were environmental studies, river modeling, and flood mapping with local, state, and federal players.

Even as the clock was ticking, in addition to the clean-up, there was a bike path to be figured out. There were bits of property to be acquired. And then, of course, when it was decided to devote the upper floors of the transit center building to housing; there was development money to be assembled, architectural designs, and the like. In the final analysis there were permits to be secured before construction could begin.

The study, planning, clean-up, acquisition, and permit problems are now behind us and we can concentrate—and need to concentrate—on the transit center itself.

In considering the transit center, these are the realities facing us:

First, the City of Montpelier will own and manage the transit center.

Second, the regional transportation provider, Green Mountain Transit, will be the primary transit center tenant and operator.

Third, it’s true that Greyhound buses will drop off and pick up passengers at the new transit center. But Greyhound is under no obligation to pay for the transit center. In fact, according to Fraser, Greyhound is doing Montpelier a favor in agreeing to take on and drop off passengers in Montpelier when it could more easily pick up and drop off passengers in Berlin.

But here is a remaining sticking point that’s being discussed and is not yet resolved.

Will the new downtown Montpelier transit center be open 24 hours a day? And will it provide services to passengers waiting to board the Boston-Montreal bus that stops in Montpelier at about 3 am? And will the transit center accommodate passengers waiting to board at the same time on the return trip?

When all the costs, and these costs include the bike path, a bike-pedestrian bridge over the North Branch, property acquisition, design, permitting—and, of course the transit center itself are added up, some $7 million of federal money will come to the City of Montpelier.

Given the time, given the money, given that the transit center is at, and has been, at the heart of the One Taylor Street project for at least 18 years, we should insist on a transit center that is accessible, safe, and achieves the goals of unifying the city’s transportation alternatives.

That transit center would be staffed and say to the traveling public, “You’re in Montpelier. You’re welcome here. If you need information, we can supply information. If you need a phone, here’s a phone. If you’re sick, we can get you up to the hospital. If it’s cold outside, you can wait inside. If you need to use a restroom, the restrooms are over there. If you’re a child or if you’re alone or if you’re an older person and you need a little help, we’re here to give it.

At the moment, what’s been figured out is a daytime transit center. What’s not been figured out is a 24-hour (staffed and accessible) downtown transit center. Those discussions need to go forward now.

In 2006, there was a modest trailer situated on the Carr Lot offering a temporary bus station to passengers arriving and departing Montpelier. As part of a 2006 story that appeared in The Bridge, then bus station manager Mike Coffin has this to say about the positive business impacts of arriving, departing, and waiting passengers:

“You have people coming to the capital in all seasons of the year. I had 45 people get off the bus here at the 11:30  am scheduled stop on the day before Thanksgiving. The economic impact is a lot more than selling bus tickets. It’s taxis, hotels, motels, and downtown merchants. I have people who come in here, and they have an hour to kill before they get on a bus, and they will come back to the station with a bagful of stuff they have purchased downtown. What would the city do if they didn’t have a bus station here?”

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