Anyone seeking parking — or housing — in Montpelier knows it’s difficult. The MyRide microtransit service, launched in early 2021, sought to open up space for housing by reducing the need for parking. As MyRide rounded its one-year anniversary on Jan. 4, riders spoke of the service’s value while lamenting some frustrations.
MyRide offers an alternative to traditional “fixed-route” bus service by providing pickups and drop-offs on demand, said Elizabeth Parker, shared mobility program director and CFO of the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition. Parker noted that unlike Montpelier’s previous service in essentially a straight line, “now much more of Montpelier is being served.”
MyRide replaces three fixed-route buses, covering the “same territory and same travel pattern; it’s just happening in a much quicker and more efficient way,” said Green Mountain Transit’s director of marketing and planning Jamie Smith. Coverage includes downtown, the National Life area, the Berlin Mall, and Central Vermont Medical Center.
Riders request pickup using an app or helpline. Smith noted that by picking up riders at or near their location, MyRide solves “first-mile, last-mile” challenges for users who struggle getting from home to a bus stop, or from a bus stop to a destination another mile away.
The app appears to be working. Smith said over 2,000 users created accounts since MyRide’s inception last January, and 1,260 users have requested at least one ride; 481 people have booked five or more rides.
MyRide grew out of concerns about space for housing. “Sixty percent of downtown Montpelier is parking. We became aware of the fact that we needed to be able to free up a lot of that parking for housing,” Parker said.
The program has 70 community partners, noted Parker, including healthcare and housing providers and grocery stores. Sustainable Montpelier contacted Disability Rights Vermont, which suggested placing phones reaching MyRide’s call center in public locations so riders without cell phones can request pickup.
“The issue is now who is going to put those phones in,” said Parker, and she plans a follow-up conversation with VTRANS.
Parker said MyRide’s first year proved a learning opportunity. “It’s an important pilot, and obviously like all pilots, it has its rough parts,” Parker said. Buses could not always stop safely on busy streets; so they created designated stops. The app sometimes reported full buses when users encountered limited cell service; now, users receive a message to seek better reception.
“People were getting really disappointed,” Parker said.
“The app has a lot of bugs,” MyRide user Alyssa Boozan said in an email. “It crashes a lot.” Boozan, who takes MyRide to work, “Sometimes they book you on the wrong bus and it never shows up.”
Despite pitfalls, residents need MyRide, noted Caitlin Huff, who uses it for her daily work commute to Central Vermont Medical Center. Huff expressed concern about MyRide’s limited hours, which present challenges for later-shift retail and hospital workers. She recalled speaking with another rider, who said the previous week they had gone to the hospital by ambulance but could not get home because MyRide had stopped operating for the night. Huff said the person reported spending the night in the hospital lobby until MyRide could bring them home the following morning.
Smith said federal funding could expand MyRide, and VTRANS is willing to help — but there’s a shortage of CDL drivers. “If we could get more drivers, we would expand the hours in a heartbeat because there’s funding for it,” Smith said. “The bottleneck is the drivers.”
Montpelier’s MyRide is novel, said Parker. “Microtransit has never been carried out in a small rural city like Montpelier before,” she said. Now, feasibility studies like the one that preceded MyRide in Montpelier are underway elsewhere in Vermont, Smith noted. Each public transit agency received funding for these studies, with Via Transportation, and the Vermont Public Transportation Association heading up the project. Green Mountain Transit is considering another MyRide in Barre.
Pandemic-related health concerns impact public transit. Smith said, however, ridership on MyRide has increased over pre-pandemic fixed-route numbers. Users must wear masks during rides, which average around 10 minutes, said Parker, and “there’s still space to socially distance on the bus.”
MyRide uses the same small diesel-powered buses as its fixed-route vehicles, Smith said. While electric vehicles join the fleet eventually, they require testing and approval before federal money can be used to purchase them. At least one manufacturer is testing them, she noted.
When the service works, it’s beneficial, said Boozan. “I love that it picks me up from my house and tells me it’s here. No waiting for the bus and accidentally missing it.”
“I’m very glad that it’s here and that it’s available,” said Huff. “I just think there’s a few blind spots.”