Despite Budget Woes GMT Pledges to Keep Seasonal Ski Routes, For Now
Green Mountain Transit recently said it may cut routes and raise fares to stay afloat. The announcement surprised both riders and representatives from the state and towns that subsidize the bus service. Green Mountain Transit runs the public buses in both urban and rural areas of northwest and central Vermont. That includes crowded Burlington routes, commuter lines and two shuttles that run during the ski season in Stowe and the Mad River Valley.
Friday afternoon, Chiara Orsini and her friends caught a ride to work on the free Stowe shuttle from a hotel where Stowe Mountain Lodge houses seasonal workers. Orsini is from Peru. Without the bus, she said she wouldn’t be working in Vermont.
"I can get to town, to get to the store, to everywhere with the bus," she said. "If there wouldn’t be any bus here, like, I’d have to walk or get a ride. And that’s impossible because of the weather. So the bus is very essential for my life here."
Officials in Stowe know how important the shuttle is to seasonal workers, local businesses and tourists. And they were taken aback by Green Mountain Transit’s recent announcement that it was in financial trouble and might suspend its seasonal shuttles.
"Within the last couple weeks it came to our attention that it was under consideration," said Town Manager Charles Safford. "Our first order of business was to let people know the importance of the service, to buy more time."
GMT General Manager Mark Sousa blames the bus company’s financial troubles on a dip in ridership, due in part to low gas prices. He says ridership dropped 30 percent over the past several years.
At a meeting in Stowe last week, VTrans official Ross MacDonald talked with concerned officials and businesspeople. Both VTrans and the town of Stowe help pay for the shuttle. VTrans has made it clear that if Green Mountain Transit cuts the bus route, the agency will give the funding to another bus company.
"If there’s a change in provider for the service, we’re not leaving the service behind, then there’s a shift in funding to whatever provider is doing that," he said at the meeting. "So, cutting routes is really not your best approach to financial stability."
Green Mountain Transit has since backed off, saying it won't abandon the Stowe and Mad River shuttles – for now.
"VTrans and GMT are gonna work together to make sure that the 2020 season is funded," said Sousa, "and then we’re also going to put together a five-year plan, to go to not only the private entities like Stowe and Sugarbush, but to some of the communities to start having discussions about moving forward with a five-year plan, and what that looks like."
That five-year plan includes efforts to run bus routes more efficiently. But it might also mean asking for more money from local towns and businesses. Local funders, like the town and business partners in Stowe, say they haven’t been asked to up their contribution in many years.
Stowe Town Manager Charles Safford said the town could be open to paying more.
"Reducing that service is not where we should be heading," Safford said. "It should be: how do we stabilize or incentivize or increase ridership going forward, and, you know, public transit availability, while recognizing it is a challenge in a rural state."
GMT’s board is holding a meeting Tuesday morning to approve the budget and discuss the financial problems.