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Commentary: Adventures in Public Transit

Two days a week I walk down the hill in the early morning to catch the 6:30 a.m. city commuter bus from Montpelier to Barre. The 12-minute walk helps me wake up, and staring out the window of the bus for another 15 minutes makes for a gentle transition into the workday.

Being able to take the bus makes it possible for me to work this job; I share a car with several other people, and it’s not available to me every weekday. From a bigger-picture perspective, using public transportation to reduce the number of cars on the road is an essential climate action strategy: an estimated $1.45 billion leaves our state every year to pay for fossil fuels, and transportation is responsible for 40% of Vermont’s carbon emissions (see eanvt.org for these and other energy statistics).

And yet, I’m often the only one on my morning bus. I know many people who are concerned about the climate crisis and wish they could take the bus, but it simply doesn’t come to where they live or go to where they need to go. In a rural state like Vermont, it’s almost impossible to get by without a car.

We’re in a vicious cycle where our public transit system doesn’t meet most people’s needs, so most people don’t use it, so the system doesn’t get the ridership volume that would justify expanding services to meet more people’s needs.

 I’m not here to ask you to give up your car and tie your life in knots to take the bus every day. But I have a proposal: once every month or two, find a leisure activity that you can reach by bus (even if you have to drive to the bus stop). Make an afternoon or a day of it; invite a friend or bring your family. Acquaint yourself with the bus schedule; show your kids a different way to get around. And demonstrate to the bus company that more people are riding the bus, that the ridership is there to justify expanding services.

Even if you can’t see your way clear to giving up your personal-vehicle commute, you can still be part of the change we need. I drive plenty of places, but at least once a month I bus up to Burlington for a day or two to visit friends and family. 

And, two days a week, I take the 5 p.m. bus from Barre home to Montpelier. The bus is much more crowded than in the morning, and I listen with one ear to the fragments of life drifting by in conversations that I would never hear otherwise. I sit back and relax after my long work day with a feeling of peace, like this whole public-transportation thing is how it’s supposed to be.

Fun Local Trips by Bus

Ideas for bus adventures from Montpelier (times given for departure from the Transit Center on Taylor Street):

  • Take the 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. Waterbury Commuter out to Red Hen Baking Company for coffee and a pastry or a sandwich, and hop on the 3:48 or 4:48 p.m. run home.
  • Take the 12:04 p.m. LINK to Burlington, have a picnic at Battery Park, wander Church Street, or walk down to the Waterfront and the ECHO lake aquarium. Catch one of the five late afternoon buses home.
  •  Take the 12:10 p.m. Northfield Commuter bus to the South Main Street and Prospect Street stop in Northfield, then walk half a mile up Prospect Street and Byam Hill to the trailhead of Paine Mountain. Return on the 5:05 or 6:05 p.m. bus.
  • Take the 7:35 a.m. U.S. 2 Commuter to the Saint Johnsbury Welcome Center. Stop for breakfast at one of the several cafés nearby. Visit the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, and ride the 3:50 p.m. bus home.
  • Take the half-hourly City Commuter to Barre to wander the galleries at Studio Place Arts or pick up supplies at one of Barre’s two operating hardware stores (both of which are on the bus route)!
See ridegmt.com for bus stop and schedule information. Note: All buses are currently free. The LINK bus will begin charging for rides ($2–$4) again in January, but all non-Chittenden County routes will remain fare-free.