Posted by Charity on February 24th, 2007

On the Front Porch Forum for my neighborhood, there has been a conversation about the CCTA bus schedule and the start time at BHS.

See, the current CCTA bus routes from the South End get the students to BHS either a half hour before school starts or 10 minutes late.

For CCTA to fix the problem (within their current structure) would require a major schedule overhaul. So, some parents have asked the School Board to adjust the start time of the high school by 10 minutes.

According to a post by School Commissioner Fred Lane (W5) on Feb. 16:

Superintendent Collins told the Board that the principal is responsible for determining the start time for each building (within reason). BHS Principal Amy Mellencamp was planning on meeting with parents to discuss the issue this week (although that may have been delayed by the snow storm); one of her concerns is that postponing the start time even by 10 minutes will affect BHS student participation in after-school activities, including sports.

Okay, so the High School is not likely to alter its start time. Back to square one – the bus schedule.

In a post by CCTA Commissioner Chapin Spencer dated Feb. 21:

The big picture issue that I want to raise is this: The problem of convenient bus service to BHS is a symptom of a larger problem and would be solved instantly with one “simple” change: having bus service every 15-minutes during peak commuting times. One bus every 30 minutes is not convenient for the modern American. If we truly want to reverse climate change and keep Burlington a livable city, we need to provide convenient alternatives to driving. With 15-minute bus service, South End buses would connect to a North Avenue bus departing Cherry St at 7:30am, getting students to BHS right before school at 7:45-7:50AM .

The City of Burlington pays its fair share to CCTA – over $1.2M/yr in property taxes (~70% of the funds CCTA receives from all area towns). Our problem: transit companies outside VT receive more money from their regions and states. Here in VT, the State has given us no alternative than to be chained to the local property tax (sound similar to education funding issues?!?!). Rep. Keogh has proposed alternatives at the State level but has found little traction in the Legislature.

All we need to provide 15-minute service during rush hour for BHS students (and everyone else) is a penny on the gas tax or some other modest non-property tax source.

The final verdict from the school board was (as reported to Front Porch Forum by Ward 5 Commissioner Amy Werbel on Feb. 22):

The school board curriculum committee met on Tuesday night and discussed the South End BHS bus situation. We determined that it is more feasible to work with CCTA than to change the start time at the high school. Jurij Homziak (Ward 6 commissioner) is working with City Councilor Andy Montroll to draft a joint resolution urging CCTA to create reasonable bus routes that enable students to ride rather than driving or being driven. This is an obvious benefit for everyone.

I think we are going to hear a lot more about this issue in the coming weeks, or even months, while people work to find a solution to this problem.

Certainly, there is a need for more frequent bus routes during peak times, not just for BHS students but for all people who take the bus (and those who would take it if the schedules were more convenient).

That need will be weighed against the budgetary constraints that Vermont is in right now and the already too heavy tax burden.

One Response to “Bus Routes, BHS, and the Gas Tax (or some other modest non-property tax source)”

  1. Yes, this is an important subject, affecting far more than just BHS students trying to get to class on time (though that’s important too).

    CCTA service hasn’t fundamentally changed or improved in 20 years. There’s still no real Sunday service; still no late-night service; still no 15-minute headways on the North Avenue line, CCTA’s most heavily used route; and still no truly regional buy-in (CCTA is funded and governed by five towns only).

    This is not because the good folks running CCTA haven’t tried. (They’ve succeeded in funding and implementing some longer commuter routes, such as the connection to Monpelier.) But, as the quote from Chapin Spencer on this blog indicates, we’ve got to expand major funding sources beyond the local property tax and build more than a bare-bones service.

    I would submit that, in the longer run, the only way to do this is to create disincentives to driving in the form of higher gas taxes, which would then be used to fund public transport. Or, to put it another way, higher gas taxes would mean that the cost of driving your car would more closely reflect the true costs of that activity to society. (Present gas taxes don’t come close to paying for the infrastructural, social, and environmental costs of automobile use.)

    The truth – as exemplified by the best public transportation systems around the world – is that you won’t build really decent and well used public transportation without such disincentives to driving, without making drivers pay more of the costs.

    Until we recognize this, efforts to establish a truly regional, full-service public transportation system in Burlington and Chittenden County (not to mention efforts to curb global warming – with driving accounting for more than a third of our carbon-dioxide emissions) will never get off the ground.