Save the No. 4.
That was the rallying cry Monday night from more than a dozen residents opposed to Green Mountain Transit’s proposed service cuts to its No. 4 bus route.
The cuts, which would allow GMT to combine the No. 4 and No. 10 routes and create an all-day trip between Essex Jct. and Williston, are part of a system-wide proposal to create a more efficient and user-friendly service in Chittenden County, according to GMT officials, who attempted to highlight the benefits during a public hearing at the village offices.
But the proposal would rip away public transportation from those along Sand Hill Road and River Road who now rely on the bus to get to school or work. And with a week left until the GMT board votes on the changes, supporters of the bus route weren’t ready to go down without a fight.
“I just don’t understand how can a bus route be stripped away from people and take their livelihood away,” said Jonathan Edwards, who has rode the No. 4 bus into work each day since moving to the town four months ago. “This is about people, not numbers.”
GMT officials appreciated the sentiment but said the situation is not so cut and dry. Jon Moore, the company’s director of transportation, explained GMT is facing a million dollar budget deficit, and even though the proposal is cost-neutral, there needs to be some trade-offs.
“Those numbers are people who need to get to work,” he said, referring to Edwards’ comment. “At at the same time, we do have some really real budgetary constraints we’re working under.”
But budgetary concerns held little weight for those fighting for the route’s survival. And while speakers included town government officials, school administrators and two state representatives, the most compelling testimony came from riders of the No. 4 who said the cuts will drastically impact their daily lives.
“I’d be lost without this bus route,” said one mother who works in St. Albans. She wasn’t sure how she could keep her job while still getting her daughter to school. “If you guys are going to take this from us please give us a solution, because I’m stuck.”
Another woman said she wouldn’t be able to get to work without the bus. She urged GMT to give the No. 4 bus more time, believing the ridership will only continue to grow. “You have to invest in the seed before it’s a garden,” she said. “Right now, we’re just a seed.”
And Edwards, who said the changes would not be catastrophic for him because he can walk the two miles to his job, advocated for older people and those physically incapable of walking such a distance.
“A lot of people on that route … are not from Vermont,” Edwards said. “But they wanted to come to Vermont to get a second chance.”
Town and village officials sent GMT their own letter on Monday that outlined the route’s importance. The letter noted the cuts would take away service from some of the town’s most densely populated neighborhoods while also taking away service from employers in the ever-growing Saxon Hill Industrial Park.
“Many of those businesses rely on public transportation,” reads the letter. “Eliminating Route 4 will hinder economic development in Essex and Chittenden County.”
The Essex meeting arrived on the tail-end of a public outreach campaign seeking feedback on GMT’s proposal. The process has already produced one change, with GMT officials now backtracking plans to remove bus service along Hinesburg Road due to pushback from the route’s ridership.
After more than an hour of comments Monday night, GMT officials appeared open to altering their proposal in Essex, too; Moore said the feedback shows “it’s only appropriate” to look at continuing some level of service along Sand Hill Road.
He said his staff will offer some recommended changes to the proposal and present those to the GMT board, which has representatives from each community served by the bus company, including Essex. The board will then decide whether to accept the changes when voting on the proposal April 16. If passed, the changes would be implemented June 17.
Moore did caution against expecting the route would remain exactly as-is, since keeping any level of service will force the company to find savings elsewhere. But GMT general manager Mark Sousa, who said the Essex meeting turnout was far greater than any other, believed the feedback voiced Monday night will likely cause a “high level of concern” at the board level, so in his eyes, “anything’s possible.”
Anyone interested in sending GMT written feedback on the proposal can email email@example.com.