Burlington’s city council formally approved changes in the city’s bus system, Link Transit, Tuesday night.
Among the changes, a proposal to eliminate fares, which will take place next Mon. and a proposal to introduce Saturday service, although that reform will await hiring of additional drivers. The city also gave a green light to allowing longer hours of service, although those, too, may have to be phased in.
During an earlier meeting last month, Mike Nunn, the city’s transportation and planning director, recommended enhancements to the city’s five-year-old bus system during the council’s latest monthly work session on May 3.
The bus system’s weekday schedule which had been rolled back from 8:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. during the pandemic, will be expanded – first back to the 8:00 p.m. schedule and at some point later to 9:30 p.m.
The city’s transportation and planning director had assured the council that Link Transit can readily afford both the introduction of Saturday service and the extension of its weekday hours to 9:30 p.m. without the need for any additional funds from the city.
“Right now, this is in the budget – to do one or the other,” Nunn went on to inform the council during the work session on May 3. “Staff would recommend that you go with Saturday first…to bring in one change at a time for a system our size is recommended.”
Nunn told the council that Link Transit was already poised to offer one of these options before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, which temporarily put the brakes on the expansion of any municipal service.
Since then, the bus system has received an infusion of federal dollars under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, which Congress approved in the spring of last year. Nunn told the council that the proceeds of this relief allocation would temporarily cover the full cost of any expansion that the council may authorize for the bus system. He cautioned, however, these federal dollars will run out in June of 2022 – at which point, the city will be on the hook for half of the bus system’s operating expenses.
Nunn told the council that the collection of the bus fares was already little more than an administrative headache before the revenue they generated began to peter out about two years ago. He went on to recall that the monthly haul from the fare box plummeted from $2,656 to $1,547 between 2018 and 2019, before climbing back up to $2,185 a month during the first quarter of 2021.
“I would be in favor of fare free,” Butler told the rest of the council during the May 3 meeting. “You’re going to get enhanced ridership and [the expense on] the administrative side exceeds the benefit.”
“I definitely support it from a standpoint of increased ridership,” concurred Burlington’s mayor Ian Baltutis at the same meeting when the topics were first made. “If we’re running the buses, paying the drivers, and can double the number of people on those buses, it seems like a more efficient system overall.”
The council’s Tues. night vote, via the Zoom teleconferencing platform, to expand the bus service, was unanimous, 5-0.