DVTA & CRT kick tires on possible merger
BRATTLEBORO -- Officials from Deerfield Valley Transit Association and Connecticut River Transit hope to have more answers about a proposed merger between the two non-profit transit agencies after a meeting planned for Aug. 28.
Earlier this month the board members from the two agencies voted to proceed with a merger that would put the operations of bus service throughout most of Windham County under a single organization. DVTA currently runs the bus service between Brattleboro and the Deerfield Valley while CRT operates the service between Brattleboro and Rockingham, and northward to White River Junction and the Hanover, N.H., region.
The proposed merger was first suggested by Vermont Agency of Transportation officials after DVTA entered into a management agreement last year to oversee CRT when the former CRT executive director did not have her contract renewed.
DVTA President Susan Haughwout said the two boards voted on Aug. 1 to proceed with a merger, but she said it will likely be many more months before the board members vote on finalizing the merger between the two organizations.
"We have been working on the different aspects of what it would mean for eight months or more but there are many, many issues that still need to be addressed before this happens," Haughwout said. "Right now there are a lot of questions that we just don't have the answers to."
Among the issues that still need to be ironed are how the new combined board will be assembled, how the bylaws from the two groups will be combined, who will be able to vote on the merger and how the staffing levels between the two groups will be affected
The two boards are scheduled to meet on Thursday, Aug. 28, at 1:30 p.m. at the CRT office in Rockingham to hear from a transportation consultant and begin planning for the next steps toward the proposed merger.
DVTA has 33 employees and is based in Wilmington, where the organization is building a brand new $5.2-million facility. It is the third-largest provider of fixed routes rides in Vermont and serves eight communities over 36-miles of bus service. CRT opened a new 20,000 square-foot garage and office in Rockingham in 2009. CRT runs 15 bus lines and took over Brattleboro's BeeLine bus service in November 2010.
Brattleboro interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said the town is going to pay close attention to the proposed merger as it moves forward.
"Upon first hearing about this, something I would ask is, ‘OK. How will this affect riders in Brattleboro?'" Moreland said. "I have reached out to ask them to come talk with the Selectboard, and I am looking forward to having that conversation."
When CRT took over the BeeLine service the transit agency agreed to allow a Brattleboro resident on its board. John Wilmerding currently represents Brattleboro on the CRT board. Moreland said one question he has is whether Brattleboro will continue to be allowed to have representation on the board. Brattleboro contributes $50,000 annually to the local bus service, as well as $3,000 to fund out-of-town CRT service.
"As it stands today, Brattleboro has an opportunity to appoint members to the CRT board," Moreland said. "Would that opportunity exist under the new consolidated organization? It's going to be important to get the answers to these questions."
According to a joint press release the two transit agencies released, the merger will help reduce duplicate administrative tasks, such as auditing, marketing, procurement and grant applications, and produce a stronger organization that could improve service throughout the region.
If the merger is approved the new organization will be a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation while both bus services will retain their names of The Current and Moover. The merged organization will have up to 10 members, with representation on the board from throughout the service area, and current DVTA General Manager Randy Schoonmaker will be the general manager of the new agency.
Operation facilities in Wilmington and Rockingham will remain open, and, according to the press release, "No personnel reductions will occur."
The organizations promise that there will be no changes in service at first, though officials say service will improve over time as the new agency establishes itself
Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann said the commission's Transportation Committee has not yet voted on the proposed merger, but he said the plan seems to make sense for both the organizations and for the riders.
"It seems like something that can be beneficial for the agencies and for the overall region from a service perspective" Mann said. "The idea is to try to create a more effective and efficient organization without affecting the service and it seems like it can be successful in doing that."
DVTA has been managing CRT since Sept. 16, 2013, after the former CRT executive director did not have her contract renewed.
Vermont Agency of Transportation Regional Public Transportation Coordinator Ross MacDonald said he saw the then-temporary agreement as a good opportunity to begin encouraging a permanent merger between the two organizations.
DVTA and CRT are both independent nonprofits, but VTrans makes all of the decisions about the distribution of federal transportation funds, and the state transportation agency will have to support any structural change that goes through.
"At the end of the day it makes more sense to have one broader, deeper organization that will allow for more continuity when there is a change in director," MacDonald said. "When the opportunity came up it made enough sense to say, ‘Let's see if we can do this.' This is a first step. We are at the beginning stage, and I think as we explain it people in the region will understand why it is a good idea. We are looking forward to having that discussion."
Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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