Home Vermont GMT bus riders reflect on fare return

GMT bus riders reflect on fare return

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – For bus riders in Burlington, two bucks can be the difference between making it to work or buying groceries. Green Mountain Transit wonders if the fare will be enough to keep the wheels turning.

It’s been a little over a month since bus fares returned to Burlington, and after four years of fare-free rides, some riders weren’t prepared to cough up the cash.

“At first they caught me by surprise because normally I don’t bring my wallet. So when I jumped on the bus and he was like, ‘You have to pay,’ I was like oh! You know, it was kind of shocking,” said Calvin Haln of Burlington.

With COVID relief and state funds drying up, Green Mountain Transit says it was time to bring fares back to Chittenden County.

“Every bus now has become a mobile business. And the bus driver is you know, the person working the cash register,” said Clayton Clark of Green Mountain Transit.

The fare is two dollars with half off for some riders. It’s pricier than pre-pandemic fares, but frequent riders can take advantage of new daily and monthly fare caps to keep costs low. The system’s come a long way since coins and printed passes.

“People can pay with their credit card or debit card, they could pay on their phone. They could pay with the smart card that they get from us,” said Clark.

Outside of a few payment issues they’re working to fix, GMT says the transition’s been smooth. They’ve noticed fewer riders causing trouble on the buses and at transit centers, and most people are willing to pay.

Daily rider Brianna Gilbert isn’t one of them.

“I’m gonna end up finding another way to get around, trust me,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert says she can’t afford to prioritize getting around Burlington over getting by.

“I can do $1.25 but two dollars…I have to make sure I have food, I have to make sure I’m paying my bills, gotta make sure I’m doing all of this,” she said.

Other riders say they’re willing to pay up to avoid service cuts.

“It doesn’t bother me. I’m benefitting them. They’re making money off it so nothing happens. I don’t want the buses to cut back service. That would be hard on a lot of passengers if they cut back service,” said Kimberly Clark of Burlington.

Still, GMT says fares don’t guarantee continued service.

“Even with fair revenue coming back, we’re going to be struggling to maintain our level of service,” said Clark.

Clark says GMT is looking at cutting up to a third of their Burlington routes by 2025 if they can’t balance their budget. That could mean a slight increase in fares in the future, though GMT needs time to see whether current prices are closing the budget gap.

“We really won’t know if we’re meeting that goal until we’ve you know, been under fair service for six to nine months,” said Clark.

GMT estimated a 16% decrease in ridership with fare return. They say they need more time to track any ridership trend changes.

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