Saturday bus gap dogs Menemsha

The Chilmark select board considered using volunteer firefighters to fill Menemsha shuttle bus service holes. — Rich Saltzberg

On Tuesday night, Chilmark’s select board considered using volunteer firefighters to fill Menemsha shuttle bus service holes. Select board chair Jim Malkin explained that the town was informed by the VTA that staffing issues had delayed shuttle service until July 5, and further that the service won’t be available on Saturdays or on foul-weather days. The VTA facilitates a shuttle service between Menemsha and a town lot on Tabor House Road called the Sunset Bus. Sunsets in Menemsha are a very popular attraction, but parking is limited along the beach and harbor where the setting sun is viewed. The shuttle is meant to alleviate sunset-driven parking congestion. 

At the meeting, Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren asked how a foul weather cancellation would happen. Town administrator Tim Carroll said the VTA would either notify Klaren or harbormaster Ryan Rossi. Klaren recommended placing signs at the Tabor House lot on Saturday evenings so folks know shuttle service isn’t available those nights. 

“That seems to be a crazy plan — that we operate six days a week but we don’t operate on Saturdays, the busiest day of the year,” select board member Warren Doty said. Carroll said the VTA described Saturdays as a “low ridership night.”

Carroll said he stressed to the VTA that any night with a sunset is a busy night. He said he hoped to have a meeting with the VTA soon. 

“We shouldn’t have no park and ride on Saturday nights,” Doty said. 

Carroll said if the town found its own drivers, the VTA might let it use a shuttle vehicle.

“I think many members of our fire department passed a driving drill to drive the fire trucks through cones, and so on and so forth,” Doty said. “It strikes me that they would qualify to drive an eight-passenger van.”

“We could reach out and ask,” Carroll said. “We could see if people are interested in working an evening gig from five to nine.”

Malkin said licensing and insurance aspects of firefighter shuttle service would need to be ironed out. 

Doty volunteered to join Carroll in a meeting with the VTA on the subject. 

VTA administrator Angie Gompert told The Times Wednesday morning that the shuttle gap stems from a labor gap. “Obviously with the labor shortage we’ve had to make some hard decisions,” Gompert said.

Gompert added that the VTA needs to balance “niche service” like the shuttle with all the transportation needs across the Island. She also said the VTA would be happy to train firefighters if the town would like them to be proficient in shuttle service. 

Chilmark Fire Chief Jeremy Bradshaw told The Times Wednesday morning he had not heard firefighters were under consideration for shuttle service. At first blush, Chief Bradshaw thought it unlikely firefighters would gravitate to the shuttle service, but he didn’t reject the idea.