Edgartown selectmen have referred the Vineyard Transit Authority’s (VTA) $1.4 million charging station project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for review.
The decision was the culmination of a meeting Tuesday evening called by concerned residents who were worried about the VTA’s proposed electric charging station at the Church Street stop, which sits in the town’s historic district. Selectman Michael Donaroma was absent.
VTA administrator Angela Grant gave a presentation on the transit authority’s history, its planned switch to an all-electric bus fleet, and the need for in-route charging stations for the electric buses.
“The buses that we have … do not have enough battery capacity to last throughout the day,” Grant said, adding that in the winter, buses run fewer miles per day, but use more energy for heat.
The VTA first broached the charging station in February 2018, and has since held two public hearings before the town’s historic committee. The project has also come up at selectmen’s meetings, including one in late December, where selectmen approved plans to remove some trees.
Grant said the charging station is being installed at Church Street because several bus routes come through that stop. The electric buses otherwise would not be able to last all day without a mid-route charge, she said. Having the charging station at the park and ride would not work either, because route 11 is the only route that goes to the park and ride. The project also calls for significant site improvements, including landscaping, bench construction, and light pole installation. The project will be fully funded with four grants from state and federal agencies.
Several residents voiced support for the electrification of the VTA’s fleet, but aired their grievances with the Church Street project.
Sara Piazza, who lives on Main Street, said she is happy with the project’s focus on the environment, but felt the VTA has outgrown the Church Street stop, and it was starting to become a safety issue.
“I have watched many, many close encounters of the bus and bicycle kind,” Piazza said. “At what cost do we transport people around this Island? I will personally say that the size and the number of those buses has actually ruined the little village in Edgartown.”
Jane Chittick, who lives near Church Street, and has been an outspoken critic of the project, said she supported electric buses, but not in the downtown historic district.
“This is a total transformation of our historic district,” Chittick said. She also raised concerns about tree removal and site improvements, saying the proposed hardscape “looks like it belongs in Attleboro or [the] Braintree T station.”
The historic district commission previously approved the project. Historic district chairman Chris Scott, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the Church Street stop is not emblematic of the historic district.
“What’s the best solution? How can the historic district guide a design?” Scott said, adding that the proposed hardscape would unquestionably be better: “I think they’ve done a good-faith effort to try to accommodate the reality of the hundreds and hundreds of people who are going to be using this location.”
VTA bus driver and union member Jason Chalifoux highlighted some of the ongoing issues and service cuts the VTA implemented due to a $1 million deficit.
“Is this bus system going to be around in a couple of years, with all these cuts to service and the decrease in ridership?” Chalifoux said. “We want to make sure this will be a successful program going forward, and our house is in order, before we start putting in big projects.”
Grant clarified that the funds needed to supplement the operating budget are completely separate from the VTA’s capital project at Church Street. The town’s finance committee approved a $177,000 funding article, to be placed on the upcoming town warrant, to supplement the VTA’s operating budget. Grant added that the fuel savings from an electrified fleet will help reduce operating costs.
Dukes County commissioner and Edgartown resident Keith Chatinover said the best thing for Edgartown was to have fewer cars on the road. “The real threat to the historical aesthetic of Edgartown is not these buses, it is the multitude of cars that come through Edgartown. If we can lower the amount of cars and add a bus … that is a huge win for the historical aesthetic for Edgartown. They’re cleaner buses, they’re less dirty, and they’re much quieter,” Chatinover said. “This will help maintain the historical aesthetic of Edgartown.”
Selectmen voted 2-0 to send the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission with the hope that the regional planning agency would be able to address traffic concerns. Selectmen also voiced support for the project.
“We want to encourage the electrification of the VTA fleet,” selectman Arthur Smadbeck said. “If we have to make a few sacrifices to get a completely electrified fleet, I think it’s worth it.”