HINSDALE, N.H. -- The town's board of selectmen voted to place back onto the town warrant an article regarding subsidized bus rides on The Current just one week after opting to scratch it.
Chairman Mike Darcy and Selectmen Jay Ebbighausen, Bernie Rideout and Wayne Gallagher had decided to remove the article that asks voters to raise and appropriate $15,500 to continue the service from Brattleboro, Vt. Joan Morel was not able to attend either meeting. The Current, run by Connecticut River Transit (CRT), is a private non-profit public transit provider that offers low-cost rides and the selectmen reversed their vote Monday after meeting with Randall Schoonmaker, the general manager of the MOOver, which is operated by the private, non-profit Deerfield Valley Transit Association (DVTA).
Schoonmaker explained CRT, on Monday, Sept. 16, entered into a one-year management agreement with DVTA, which he said is CRT's "neighbor to the west." He brought the selectmen the ridership statistics they had asked for regarding the Blue Line, which goes from Brattleboro to Hinsdale. He said there were 1,336 weekday boardings at Hinsdale stops (mostly at Walmart) between July 1, 2013, and Jan. 19, 2014, and 352 boardings on Saturdays in that same time period. The most boardings took place at the Brattleboro Transportation Center on Flat Street. There is no service on Sundays or holidays.
The Current charges each individual $1 per ride and also gets funding through the Job Access and Reverse Commute program of New Hampshire as well as other state and federal funds in addition to donations.
Schoonmaker told selectmen their town is part of a much bigger route system. He said there will be roughly 6,600 rides on the Blue Line this year. Selectmen had axed the article regarding transit funding due to a perceived lack of ridership among Hinsdale residents. Schoonmaker said there are potential service changes, such as deleting certain unpopular departure times, to make the system more efficient.
He also admitted to poor marketing of the Hinsdale route, adding that a Brattleboro area bus brochure is in the works and will possibly get bulk-mailed to Brattleboro and Hinsdale residents, and distributed to businesses, schools and public buildings. Schoonmaker also said bus stop signs, with specific schedules, will be installed at every stop and surveys will be conducted among non-riders to determine their reasons for not utilizing the transit service.
"We feel strongly that outreach is important," he said. "Thank you for calling our attention to this."
As for the argument that there are often empty buses on the road, Schoonmaker said nearly every transit operator deals with this and the same thing could be said for school buses at certain times. He said DVTA and CRT focus on quality, and not necessarily quantity.
"The town's funding is absolutely critical -- absolutely critical," he stressed. After the selectmen voted to put the article back onto the warrant, Schoonmaker thanked them and said he knows there are a lot of other ways they could choose to apply financing.
JB Mack, the principal planner for the Southwest Region Planning Commission, said the subsidized bus trips are critical for a town like Hinsdale because estimates suggest the average American household spends $8,998 on transportation once the costs of fuel, insurance and maintenance are factored in. He said the most recent census states 179 households in Hinsdale lack access to a vehicle. He said transportation accompanies food and housing as necessities for people.
New Hampshire State Rep. Bill Butynski (D-Hinsdale, Walpole, Westmoreland and Chesterfield) then stood up to voice his support for putting the article back onto the warrant.
"I was part of the community group that in fact recommended this initially," he said. "I do think that for a number of people it is essential."
Earlier in the evening, the selectmen held a public hearing regarding the reconstruction of Monument Road -- the entire two-and-a-half to three miles from Old Brattleboro Road to Plain Road. Michael S. Vignale, principal engineer with KV Partners LLC of New Boston, visited town hall to explain the project. He said the work will be split into two phases and cost an estimated $2.7 million.
Vignale said his company took 31 borings and determined there are some poor soil conditions near the field between Oak Hill and Plain roads, which is where the roadway will be raised during reconstruction so it will last longer. He said the drainage system is designed to handle up to five inches of rain.
He also said the road will most likely be open during most of the work.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.