West Tisbury center may be a natural crossroads and the ideal hub for Vineyard transit buses to transfer riders, but West Tisbury selectmen said they’ve had enough of the buses converging on their narrow and historic main street.
In a unanimous vote last week, selectmen called for new negotiations to get rid of the hub and move it somewhere else by next year. Four buses an hour come into town on the half-hour, linking down-Island routes with buses headed either to Aquinnah or Menemsha.
After more than a year of complaints about the buses and continuing efforts to tinker with the layout of bus stops in town, selectman John Early said his board agreed last week that it’s just not working.
“We need to find another way to do it,” Mr. Early said yesterday in a telephone interview. He called the transit buses a “lightning rod” for concerns about congestion, public safety and the integrity of the historic district which encompasses the entire downtown.
The alternative site most leaders are considering is the county airport terminal, but the administrator of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Transit Authority, Angela Gompert, is not convinced any alternative can work unless town leaders find a site within a half mile of the town center.
The fact is, said Ms. Gompert, there’s no simple way to change the current system which at peak hours of the summer involves meshing 17 different routes across almost every main road on the Island.
“I’m glad for the input, but one town can’t dictate how the regional transportation network is going to work,” she said, adding that West Tisbury is the logical site for a hub because of “all the roads intersecting in close proximity.”
Indeed, buses coming from down-Island on State Road, Lambert’s Cove Road, Old County Road and Edgartown-West Tisbury Road all converge in the center of West Tisbury. At first, half of them parked in the library parking lot, but complaints about congestion and safety pushed the buses back onto the main street, State Road.
Then, last month, after complaints that riders were at risk when they walked between parked buses to cross the street, selectmen pushed for moving two bus stops, one to town hall and the other to the Grange Hall.
But a subcommittee appointed by selectmen recommended last week that relocating the bus transfer hub altogether is the only solution.
“We’ve been after them a long time to move the buses out of our historic district,” said Glenn Hearn, chairman of the six-member bus subcommittee. “We’ve gotten over 200 signatures from voters who would like to see it moved.”
Mr. Hearn said that while many residents support the idea of mass transit, they can’t tolerate the negative impact in their town center.
“We think buses should come through West Tisbury and drop people off,” he said. “But not hordes of people waiting for other buses and loitering around. There’s not that much to do in West Tisbury. When there’s a lot of people, there’s a public safety problem.”
Mr. Hearn said most passengers don’t want a stopover in West Tisbury; they would rather go straight to the Gay Head Cliffs or Menemsha. A better alternative, he said, would be buses that went straight through from down-Island towns to up-Island destinations. And if transfers need to happen, he added, the county airport could be a suitable site.
“It’s the logical place to have a transit transfer terminal,” Mr. Hearn said.
But some town leaders disagree. Selectman John Alley, who is also chairman of the transit authority and an airport commissioner, said the county airport is not set up to deal with more transit buses than it currently handles.
Mr. Alley said plans for the new airport accommodated mostly taxis and some buses, but not a bus terminal. And Ms. Gompert said, “The airport is already an existing transfer hub. There’s not room for anything else. There’s already four buses an hour in there now.”
Also, the transit administrator said the airport is a bad location to link up-Island and down-Island routes since it’s close to only two other intersecting roads and too far from Aquinnah and Menemsha.
“We’re talking about time and trip length,” she said. And the ideal trip length is a half-hour, allowing routes to meet up at the same time, she added.
Also, making changes in the current mapping of routes could stress the capital costs of the transit authority, she said. “It costs money to buy buses,” Ms. Gompert said. The fleet of buses right now includes 20 white buses, 17 of those measuring 25 feet in length and three that are 37 feet long. In summer, the VTA leases five of the more urban-looking buses that are 35 feet long.
It’s a complicated system, and the responsibility for planning it lies with the transit authority, not with leaders in West Tisbury, Ms. Gompert pointed out.