With a grant from the state of Vermont and $20,000 for the six buses, they started the first commuter bus run. Cole says, “It’s about 40 miles between the two cities, all interstate travel.”
He explains, “We make a stop in Badbury at a state park-and-ride lot and then a stop in Richmond at a state park-and-ride lot.
“No sooner had we started the service that we had to start adding additional runs because we had standees on the buses,” says Cole. “In 2002 it was unknown whether or not Vermonters, being a very rural state, would use public transportation to commute to work. But they did in overwhelming fashion.”
CCTA operates on a pulse system, whereby seven of its routes pulse at the downtown Burlington terminal on Cherry Street so that transfers can take place between bus routes. Cole says approximately 25 percent of their customers transfer utilizing the pulse system.
The “Smart Business Program” is a new marketing program aimed at businesses. The program recruits new passengers by eliminating a barrier to using the services, namely the passenger fare. “We have found that if the service is free to the customer, ridership will increase,” says Cole. “Yet we need the passenger fare revenue source to maintain our levels of services.
“The way the program works is, we speak to businesses along our bus routes explaining that whether they realize it or not, they are supporting our auto-centric society by subsidizing their employees use of automobiles from their own bottom line by paying for their parking spaces or the maintenance associated with their parking lots.
“All we ask is that they make similar payments for their employees to use public transportation.”
Cole shares they have had great initial success with the program and continue to sign up businesses to the program as businesses have been using their participation in this program to market their “greenness” to the community and prospective employees.
CCTA also has an unlimited pass program for the local colleges and universities. Cole says, “Many of the other transit agencies have it nationwide, but I think we might do ours a little differently.”
Burlington is a college town with the University of Vermont, Champlain College, St. Michaels College, New England Culinary Institute, Middlebury College and the Community College of Vermont in the area. Each of the colleges, universities and two local high schools use their student IDs as transit passes.
The GFI fareboxes have software rewritten so that it recognizes the magnetic stripe on the IDs to record the ride and the schools are billed once a month for the ride the students take. With the specific identifiers, the farebox and the agency is able to sort them.
“We give the universities the underlying data to which they track back,” explains Cole. A statistics class looked at the data of one university and did an analysis of who was riding, where they were going, whether freshman were more apt to use the service than seniors, and more, for the agency and universities use. He adds, “This program has dramatically increased our ridership since its inception in 2002.”
When I ask Cole what the strength of his agency is, he says it’s the professionalism. “We really put out a professional product and we’re really focused on customer service.
“When I first came to the agency, customer complaints weren’t being tracked and there were no records of the agency’s responses to issues.” He continues, “So the first thing I did was to install a customer compliant and a customer compliment system.
“Each complaint and each compliment is given a number, is tracked. If a customer complains, they get a return phone call explaining what the situation is as to why the service didn’t happen the way they wanted it to.”
Cole says some of the complaints may be the fault of the agency, but some are lack of understanding from the customer as to how the system works. “We try to reach a resolution and understanding with each complaint.” He adds, “We try to close the loop with every customer who contacts us and has an issue with some aspect of the service.”