Chilmark stalls on Middle Road bus service
With one selectman absent and the two present unable to agree, selectmen postponed action Tuesday on whether to allow the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) to provide bus service along Middle Road.
Supporters cited the need for better bus service, particularly for young people. Opponents cited safety concerns related to big buses traveling on narrow roads.
However, selectmen did decide to reduce hours of service for the beach shuttle bus, based on a report from VTA general manager Angela Grant that ridership had evaporated, in part because of privately arranged service.
"They are running around empty, and the taxpayers are paying for it," Ms. Grant said, noting that the closure of the Inn at Blueberry Hill and a new private shuttle service provided by Bob and Sarah Nixon, owners of the Beach Plum and Menemsha Inns and the Home Port Restaurant, has reduced ridership.
The meeting agenda included public discussion of a request by eight Middle Road residents to extend the Island-wide VTA system to include Middle Road service.
Selectman Frank Fenner supported the request. Chairman J.B. Riggs Parker opposed it, citing safety and aesthetic concerns.
At the start of the Middle Road discussion, Chilmark property owners Nancy Nitchie and Emily Meegan presented a petition signed by 18 Chilmark residents, including eight Middle Road residents, requesting the shuttle service.
Ms. Nitchie provided maps of the Middle Road neighborhood. She noted, "Over the past 20 years, more than 100 homes have been built on Middle Road and connecting roads. We want to be part of the town, and we're not. It's very difficult to get back and forth."
Ms. Nitchie's daughter Emily, a Middle Road resident, said her 15-year old son uses the VTA constantly. "He can get around the Island, but he can't get home," she said, noting that service ends in West Tisbury or Menemsha. She suggested using the VTA's smaller beach route bus to connect West Tisbury and Chilmark town centers.
Chilmarker Robert Zeltzer opposed the service, expressing traffic and safety concerns related to the winding Middle Road topography that creates "a lot of blind corners." Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi also opposed the request, based on department records indicating 25 traffic accidents and incidents over the past five years on Middle Road.
Selectman Frank Fenner asked Ms. Grant for ideas about Middle Road bus service using vans. She proposed an hourly bus route from the Chilmark community center, down Middle Road, turning left on Panhandle Road and making the loop to connect with VTA buses at the Alley's general store VTA stop.