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Is MyRide Working?

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Montpelier’s MyRide bus service started in January 2021 as a free public service to pick up and drop off residents at their locations around town. Now in its second year, MyRide has regular users but has also raised eyebrows and left frustrated would-be riders waiting for buses that never arrive. 

MyRide replaced three regular bus routes, and it requires users to request rides via a smartphone app or a phone call. Dan Jones, founder and former member of the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition and self-described “instigator” of MyRide, said, “There’s a lot of frustration and anger with the traditional users of the service because now it’s put more on them to use.” Jones noted this contrasts with MyRide’s original goal of increasing convenience.

Montpelier resident Rebecca Sheppard expressed similar concerns. “It’s a little complicated,” she said. She noted for people without cell phones or experiencing homelessness, MyRide might be out of reach. 

Some users reported difficulties with MyRide’s reliability, including Montpelier resident Katie Pello, who lives too close to her child’s school to access school transportation. Pello has tried MyRide for her middle-schooler on bitter mornings when the walk would be “unbearable.” But, she said, “Several times it’s been late, which makes her late for school, or she ends up having to walk because it’s so busy it’s only scheduling 8:30 or later.”

Scheduling stops in MyRide’s system is simpler in grid-like larger cities, Jones said. But “[h]ere, because of the more circular nature of things, it’s hard to figure out how to schedule things because the van, the computer doesn’t respond fast enough.”

Gretchen Elias, another Montpelier parent, has experienced these issues firsthand. With fixed-route service, Elias said she could tell her daughter when and where to wait for the bus, and know her transportation was handled. But with MyRide, Elias, whose child is too young for her own phone, found herself or her husband tethered to their home’s wireless, checking the bus’s arrival time, which often varied. “With this system, I’d have to be monitoring (the) MyRide (app) for the 60-30 minutes before her scheduled pickup to make sure I knew about and could communicate any last-minute adjustments … It was exhausting.” 

Jones, himself a user for MyRide’s first few months, said, “I had too many situations where … I had to get somewhere and what should be a more responsive service was now taking a lot longer, or somehow the map coordinates didn’t work, so the bus they sent to pick me up didn’t actually get to where I was.” 

Jones said he finally stopped using MyRide regularly around September, when “things started slowing down, where I said, it was not working the way I had hoped it was.” He added, “The people who’ve written about their frustration or talked about their frustration, I certainly relate.” 

Jones suggested such problems could be addressed with a larger number of smaller vans that could more nimbly respond to demand. Such vans would also preclude the need for CDL drivers — a current bottleneck in expanding the service. He also suggested other options, such as rideshare cars, to assist in solving Montpelier’s transit challenges.

Other residents expressed aggravation at the loss of a fixed-route bus on which they relied. Sheppard said “The bus was wonderful when it ran. I could schedule my trips downtown; I could shop at the Shaw’s downtown instead of having to drive to Berlin.” 

The fixed-route bus was sufficiently valuable to her, she noted, that she purchased her home for its location on a route. 

Elias, too, lamented the loss of fixed-route service. “I used to use the Circulator/City Commuter to commute to work and pick my kids up on the way home from work,” she said. “Now that I’m back to working in the office again, I no longer have a public transit option that works for our family.”

Even residents who don’t use MyRide are frustrated with it. A local business owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to potentially impacting their business, recalled often seeing MyRide vehicles empty. The resident also mentioned seeing fixed-route and MyRide buses in close proximity in traffic, each carrying one person. The resident noted that using large vehicles to transport single riders, while paying for a driver, fuel, and the vehicles themselves, seemed wasteful. 

Sheppard, too, observed MyRide’s light ridership. “I see these buses go up and down with one person in there,” she said. 

Pello pointed out that MyRide can be useful. “It’s a great service that we rely on also for [appointments] in Berlin. But I just wish there was a reliable bus that went down Barre Street, or any street that low-income families without cars could access to school.”

Sheppard, too, misses traditional service. “Buses are wonderful,” she said, “but it helps to have them be regular … so that you can count on them.”

Editor’s Note: Lauren Milideo wrote “MyRide After One Year in Service” in our Jan. 12 issue. We received so much feedback verbally and on social media, that we decided to run a followup story capturing a fuller picture.

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