BARRE — The Green Mountain Transit board won’t be asked to adopt the central Vermont component of its “NextGen Service Plan” when it meets next week. That delay is said to be unrelated to this week’s decision to place General Manager Mark Sousa on paid administrative leave.
During a special two-hour meeting on Monday — most of it held behind closed doors — the GMT board unanimously voted to relieve Sousa of his administrative duties pending the outcome of a third-party investigation members authorized their lawyer to arrange.
Board members declined to discuss what prompted the decision, but Chairman Tom Chittenden said it had nothing to do with finances.
Sousa, who joined GMT as its operations manager in 2014, was promoted to director of operations the following year and was appointed interim general manager in January 2017. A month later, the board stripped “interim” from Sousa’s title and he has served as general manager ever since.
Following Monday’s special meeting, Transportation Director Jon Moore was appointed to serve as acting general manager while Sousa remains on paid administrative leave.
None of that, GMT officials say, has any bearing on a decision to delay board approval of the central Vermont component of the NextGen transit plan that was implemented in Chittenden County last month.
Days away from its scheduled adoption and less than three months from its planned implementation, that portion of the plan won’t be presented to the board for approval when it meets next Tuesday as previously planned.
Bonnie Waninger, vice chairwoman of the GMT board, said the shifting timeline was the result of a couple of unresolved issues and a desire to roll out proposed changes to GMT’s central Vermont service all at once instead of in piecemeal fashion.
“It’s less confusing that way,” she said.
Waninger said it also saves the cost of re-printing route schedules to reflect new changes.
“There are a number of things route-wise that haven’t been decided,” she said.
According to Waninger, one of those issues surfaced during a well-attended public meeting at the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier on Wednesday and she expects another will be decided by the board when it meets on Tuesday.
Waninger said the latter involves the creation of a Route 14 commuter route that would run from Hardwick at least to the park-and-ride in East Montpelier, where riders could board the Route 2 commuter. The question the board will consider is whether that route should be extended all the way into Barre, saving riders destined for the Granite City from having to make the connection in East Montpelier.
Waninger, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said there was no clear consensus involving competing options for adjusting the circulator route that helps folks get around the Capital City.
Both alternatives would require longer wait times for riders — it’s currently 20 minutes between buses. However, a “bi-directional” proposal would limit the extra wait to 10 minutes, while sacrificing stops at Freedom Drive, 3 Prospect St., the Montpelier Senior Activities Center and the Hunger Mountain Co-op. Maintaining those stops through a loop system alternative would more than double the wait times to 45 minutes.
Waninger said there were advocates for both options at Wednesday’s meeting and additional public comment has been invited.
Based on the previously established timeline, the public comment period was scheduled to end Friday, but, Waninger said, that presumed the board would be making a decision on Tuesday.
“That’s not happening,” she said, noting the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting includes an update on the NextGen plan, but does not include its adoption as an action item.
“We’re not quite there yet,” she said.
While the public comment period may be extended, Wednesday’s meeting in Montpelier was the last in the latest wave of such outreach sessions that have been held as part of a consultant-led process that started nearly three years ago.
During that process, three scenarios were evaluated, including two that would have expanded service at increased expense and a third that sought to enhance services by reconfiguring routes.
The “cost neutral” approach is reflected in the plan, which is viewed as a way to deliver a financially and environmentally sustainable service that is convenient and accessible to those who rely on public transportation, as well as those who choose to use it.
There are some notable changes and one would address an issue that recently surfaced in Barre when a downtown doctor’s office closed and patients were shifted to a medical office complex a little more than a mile out on South Main Street.
The plan would provide regular weekday transportation to Hannaford’s supermarket in South Barre, replacing the once-a-week shuttle that now provides that service in limited fashion. That bus route could include stops at Barre Internal Medicine and the nearby municipal swimming pool, as well as the Barre Area Senior Center on its way to Hannaford’s.