Three weeks ago, West Tisbury selectmen demanded concessions and route changes, seeking to reduce the impact of transit buses on their historic town center.
Last week, they finally heard back from the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA), and the answer was an emphatic "no" to any changes in the current bus route.
In a sharply worded letter from the transportation planner and a decisive five to one vote by the VTA board, transit leaders let selectmen know it's time to face geographic reality: West Tisbury's main street may be quaint, but it's also the main artery for Vineyard traffic headed up-Island.
For more than two years, transit authority officials have met with West Tisbury residents who complained that the presence of a bus hub in the town center not only posed safety risks but also threatened the historic character that townspeople were committed to protecting.
Last winter, the two sides reached a compromise, agreeing to move the hub site to the parking lot at up-Island Cronig's.
But in May, with the advent of the shoulder season schedule, two West Tisbury selectmen again complained, arguing that passengers were still transferring between buses in the town center.
Selectman John Alley, who is also chairman of the transit authority board, said the front of town hall was a "mini-transfer station" and asked VTA administrator Angela Gompert to send more buses to the North Tisbury hub, and for buses to bypass the town hall transfer site.
But on Friday, the rest of his board voted to keep the schedule and routes as they are now.
"It's difficult to make changes in the middle of the season when the schedules have been published," said VTA board member Alice Butler of Oak Bluffs. "The board assumed the question had been resolved last winter."
Last week, VTA planner and project engineer Andrew Grant wrote in a letter to Mr. Alley that implementing the selectman's proposed changes would only make things worse.
"Your recommendation calls for the bus to go through the town center without stopping (despite the desperate stop requests that most bus drivers are inclined to comply with) and go to the business district to transfer passengers," Mr. Grant wrote.
If VTA were to implement Mr. Alley's proposal, Mr. Grant wrote, it would be tantamount to "hijacking" passengers and taking them out of their way. The change would also dramatically increase the number of times the buses went through town, he said.
"Someone sitting on the porch at Alley's General Store will see the bus go by 39 times, instead of just 13. Is this really what's in the best interest of West Tisbury?" Mr. Grant asked.
Earlier this month, Mr. Alley had threatened to evict the VTA buses from the town hall driveway that currently hosts the town center's only bus stop. Yesterday, Mr. Alley said that selectmen would simply keep an eye on bus activity.
"We just have to monitor the situation closely up here and keep a record of it," he said.
According to Mr. Alley, the VTA will ask its drivers to turn off their engines while sitting in the town hall driveway loading and unloading passengers. Drivers will also try to adjust schedules to avoid having more than one bus in the driveway at a time.
"In fairness, we'll give the authority and administrator the opportunity to make some refinements," said Mr. Alley.
It was clear from Mr. Grant's letter that VTA leaders are frustrated after more than two years of trying to make people in West Tisbury happy with the buses. Selectmen first asked the buses to leave the library parking lot. Then they tried shuffling the bus stops to different locations along State Road, from the Field Gallery to the church and up to old Grange Hall.
Selectmen formed a bus committee that recommended moving the bus hub out of the town center. They eyed the airport and the fire station, but those sites were rejected. According to business owners in North Tisbury, the new hub at the Cronig's parking lot is operating smoothly.