Just a few weeks ago, Vineyard transit officials decided the North Tisbury business district would be the perfect place to relocate their bus transfer hub and put an end to all those complaints about buses ruining the historic character of West Tisbury village. All they needed was a good-sized patch of blacktop in the business district.
Now, it appears, they have it. The owner of Cronig\'s Market, Steve Bernier, is offering the parking lot at his up-Island store as the site for the bus hub, and transit authority board members, who met this morning, were expected to endorse the plan.
\"Hopefully, we have a solution,\" said Lenny Jason, a member of the Martha\'s Vineyard Regional Transit Authority (VTA) board. \"It would probably work very well in North Tisbury. The area where people go to shop, to the doctor\'s and the bank, that\'s really North Tisbury, not West Tisbury center.\"
The proposal to make room for transit buses in the lot at Cronig\'s Up-Island still needs approval from West Tisbury selectmen who meet Monday, but town leaders are already enthusiastic about the plan.
\"The final piece is to have a friendly host. We\'re not used to that in this debate,\" said Cynthia Mitchell, chairwoman of the selectmen\'s board and town treasurer. The North Tisbury business district, she said, is a natural choice for the bus hub.
Transit officials can hardly wait to nail down an agreement. \"It\'s a green light for us to finalize our schedule for the summer which is already two months overdue,\" said Andrew Grant, a planner at the transit authority. \"We\'re excited about it. It would settle issues in West Tisbury for us.\"
For almost two years, town and transit officials have wrangled over the impact of buses rolling into the village center to transfer passengers between buses. In peak season four buses pulled into town every half-hour, and, as ridership climbed, so did the complaints about diesel exhaust, public safety and trash left by bus riders.
Selectmen, police and transit leaders tinkered with solutions - moving the bus stops, altering the schedules and even testing out the \"drop-and-go\" approach which involved bus drivers killing time on their routes to reduce their layovers in the town center.
But the criticisms continued until VTA administrator Angela Gompert proposed siting the transfer hub in North Tisbury.
\"The VTA showed the first movement when they were willing to look at relocating the hub,\" said Mrs. Mitchell. \"That was the big breakthrough.\"
If the plan is implemented, passengers on a layover in North Tisbury will have to wait between five and 10 minutes for a transfer to the next bus, said Mr. Grant.
\"It\'s the perfect amount of time for someone to run into Cronig\'s,\" said Mr. Grant.
Other store owners could also see a boon. Conroy\'s Apothecary and Biga Bakery are immediate neighbors. Biga owner Doug Reid embraced the proposal, saying it would definitely increase his business.
Mr. Bernier, while acknowledging the benefits for his business, also stressed the payoff in reducing Island traffic.
\"This is something the Island needs,\" he told the Gazette. \"The business district in North Tisbury has a grocery store, two banks and a drug store. These are core, essential needs of Islanders. To have a bus that will go to that location will help us with traffic and makes a lot of simple sense.\"
The next step, said Mr. Bernier, is to make the parking lot safe for buses, creating room for them to turn around. \"We need to keep safety a primary concern,\" he said.
Downsides to the plan include extra costs for the VTA coupled with some new scheduling headaches. To make it happen, the transit authority will have to pay for another bus and more hours on the road, increasing annual costs by about $90,000.
The new hub also creates a complicated system of timing routes. Instead of one bus dedicated to a particular route, buses will change routes throughout the day. That means that if a bus is late or breaks down, the entire system will be affected.
And while most people connected to the West Tisbury center will be glad to see the bus hub leave the village, the folks at Alley\'s aren\'t welcoming the change. Bus passengers waiting for a transfer were good for business.
\"It\'s going to have an impact,\" said the Alley\'s manager yesterday, asking not to be named. \"I\'ll miss them if they go to Cronig\'s.\"