VTA deserves credit for restoring service

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To the Editor:

This letter is in response to the letter submitted by Susanna J. Sturgis on behalf of the Coalition to Restore Vineyard Transportation. I am a recent member of the VTA advisory board representing the town of Tisbury, and have been actively engaged this year in the dynamics affecting the VTA and, therefore, the entire Island.

Susanna’s letter implies that as a result of the coalition’s efforts, the VTA made adjustments to the schedule and restored all the services. I respectfully disagree. The reason for the restored services was due to the diligent effort of the management team at the VTA, who over the past months have reviewed the budgets and spent an enormous amount of time adjusting the operations of the routes, taking into consideration the hourly ridership on each route, and feedback from drivers and passengers.

They have developed a winter schedule that reduced layovers and deviates more than the standard fixed-route system and demand response/ADA system to allow for more flexibility. All of this resulted in keeping the most popular routes intact.

The management team at the VTA has provided excellent services for over 20 years. They have procured grants for electric buses, they have fought for funding at the state level, and have been successful even though coming from a small, isolated community, they compete against large transit authority systems in the large cities of the commonwealth for the same dollars.

The creation of the coalition this year is another voice to be heard on issues related to public bus service now and in the future. Do not, however, minimize the efforts of the VTA. They are a hardworking group supporting their mission statement of providing the best transportation system for our Islanders and tourists, while having respect for their drivers in the scheme of the work that needs to be done, as well as meeting the requirements of the federal and state governments that provides about half of the operating funds. Perhaps this has been a best-kept secret.

I acknowledge that nothing is perfect; some adjustments need to be made, and will be made. It takes time and patience, and is best achieved with the cooperation of all involved. The VTA is not inventing or restoring a damaged system. They are rather bridging an existing system that has served our community well. Yes, this year they had a bump in the road, but they are moving back on track to make an already good organization even better.

I encourage the coalition to have their voices heard. But in the course of doing so, do not minimize the efforts of the VTA.

Elaine Miller
Tisbury

3 COMMENTS

  1. If I recall correctly it was the VTA advisory board that unanimously voted to cut the routes to begin with.

    “The Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) advisory board unanimously voted Tuesday to make drastic cuts to the majority of its routes except the 1, 10, and 13, starting Dec. 1, due to a $1 million budget deficit…

    …The board is cutting routes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10A, eliminating some of its regular service up-Island. Routes 11, 12, and 8 do not regularly run in the winter season, but there are significant changes to the VTA’s normal winter routes. Grant also said Sunday service will be eliminated on all routes except route 10.” (https://www.mvtimes.com/2019/08/27/vta-cut-winter-routes/)

    Were it not for public pressure one wonders whether the VTA and its “advisory” board would have ever resisted the issue.

  2. Elaine Miller has been one of the brighter lights on the VTA Advisory Board, and she was the only board member to attend the town hall meeting organized by the Coalition to Restore Vineyard Transportation. For this she deserves credit.

    However, in her letter she doesn’t address what I consider the most important part of my letter (written with other members of the Coalition to Restore Vineyard Transportation and posted on Nov. 26): recommendations for the VTA Advisory Board that could, if adopted, improve VTA service and increase VTA transparency. Instead, she devotes her effort to defending the VTA administration and wants us to give them credit that the actual cutbacks were not as draconian as the ones originally announced.

    I, like the commenters above, am skeptical. I, unlike Ms. Miller, was at the well-attended Nov. 6 consumer advisory group meeting, at which regular riders, many of them seniors, registered their displeasure with the proposed cutbacks. The VTA’s Andrew Grant seemed to be listening, for which I give him credit — and I can’t help but hope that this had an effect. My questions at the time were “Why wasn’t rider feedback solicited *before* the proposed cutbacks were announced?” and “Why weren’t the drivers consulted about ways to maintain maximum service within budget constraints?”

    What I’ve seen and heard in the last six months leads me to believe that VTA management is deterrmined to run its own show. It doesn’t want an advisory board that asks challenging questions. It wants what it’s had for many years: a do-little rubber stamp for management’s decisions. It certainly doesn’t want the drivers to have a voice, either in their own conditions of employment or in determining routes; otherwise they would not have opposed so zealously the drivers’ struggle to unionize. And it’s made it difficult for regular riders to make their voices heard *before* essential routes and services are cut.

    The Coalition to Restore Vineyard Transportation wants to strengthen public transportation on Martha’s Vineyard by amplifying the voices of riders and drivers, and by working toward a VTA Advisory Board that actively exercises its oversight role. The “bump in the road” that Ms. Miller mentioned did not come out of nowhere. It resulted from years of the administration’s not listening to the drivers, and of an advisory board that didn’t take its oversight role seriously. Several longtime members of that board need to either step up or step down and make way for new members who take their responsibilities seriously.

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