Hinesburg, with a population of 4,600, is a small town in southern Chittenden County. Community members have long wrestled with how to manage change in this rapidly growing corner of Vermont, particularly as this once rural area becomes more of a bedroom community for commuters. With transportation becoming an important issue in Hinesburg, concerned residents made it a priority to offer alternatives to traveling in single-occupancy vehicles within the community, and beyond.
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In 2006, several factors – a desire for more sustainable transportation options, an interest in better coordinating and utilizing existing transportation services (such as specialized buses) and a motivated and engaged community – converged to make finding alternative transportation solutions a priority for local residents and businesses.
To understand the community’s transportation needs, desires, and possible solutions, a group called Hinesburg Rides sent a survey out to all town residents and convened a meeting of key stakeholders. Receiving a federal “United We Ride” grant from the Vermont Agency of Transportation also allowed the town to hire a consultant to outline transportation solutions that would work well for the community.
Three solutions were identified, culminating in the formation of the “Hinesburg Rides” program, which aimed to minimize the number of single-passenger trips in cars and establish a connected and sustainable community. The three components of the program address multiple transportation needs:
- The Volunteer Driver Program provides rides for the elderly and disabled to local appointments and errands by volunteer drivers using their own cars. From its first ride in March 2008, through April 2011, the Volunteer Driver Program provided over 360 rides for 70 residents, providing affordable transportation options to those who otherwise might not otherwise had that need met.
- The Rideshare Program provides opportunities for community members to share the use of a car for commuting, with the goals of reducing carbon emissions, protecting the environment and reducing Hinesburg’s traffic congestion. More than 100 people are now registered in the Hinesburg Rides database and better able to find carpooling opportunities. (NOTE: This program has evolved over the years and is now under the umbrella of the state’s Go Vermont rideshare program.)
- The third program, Employer Partnership/ Public Transit Program works with local businesses to facilitate low-cost commuting options for employees, such as vans and carpooling, all connecting with public transit. The program uses a website that facilitates carpool matching and access to other programs for interested commuters. The Employer Partnership/Public Transit Program has worked with various Hinesburg employers and local transportation. There are many elements to this successful program but, as one example, NRG Systems has committed to providing the Town’s matching capital costs of obtaining two 28-passenger buses. (NOTE: This program also evolved — another success story! — in that the community was successful in partnering with Addison County transit authority (ACTR) the and Chittenden County Transit Authority (CCTA) and there are now two commuter buses running each day from Middlebury and Burlington. One bus runs twice daily — once in the morning, once in the evening — from Middlebury through Hinesburg to Burlington. The other, a CCTA commuter bus, makes a morning and evening route daily between Burlington and Hinesburg.
To sustain and expand these programs, Hinesburg Rides receives financial support from SCHIP (Shelburne, Charlotte, Hinesburg Interfaith Projects), the Town, and private donations. The community as a whole spends less time in single-passenger car trips, which decreases environmentally harmful emissions. Strengthened community connections help keep the project momentum. Hinesburg Rides also helped to catalyze a new commuter line that will offer local residents a commuting option. Called the Hinesburg Commuter Route, the program began in March 2012 and offers service along Route 116 between Waterbury and Burlington.
- It’s hard to get people to change their behavior and carpool or take the bus, but if you create a program that is affordable, and convenient, more people will take advantage of it.
- Heavy marketing is needed, and needs to be repeated over and over, to ensure the public knows the program is available (and word of mouth helps a lot!). Public/private partnerships are also essential to success.
- Having wonderful volunteers is a necessity; without them, a program like the successful volunteer driver program wouldn’t be possible.
- Having the support of the town is key, as is the support of other transportation providers, employers, and the community.