After almost two years trying to resolve the ongoing dispute over transit buses crowding into the village center of West Tisbury, officials have reached a compromise that may put the issue to rest.
The solution endorsed last month by the board of the Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Authority (VTA) and welcomed by town selectmen would relocate most of the transit hub operation to the North Tisbury business district on State Road.
If West Tisbury selectmen can find the right site, the new plan could start by this summer. "It looks very feasible," said selectmen chairwoman Cynthia Mitchell. "The conclusion is that if it works for the VTA, then that end of town is more appropriate for a transfer spot."
John Alley, chairman of the transit authority board and a West Tisbury selectman, said, "This could very well be the breakthrough."
Since 2000, as transit bus service increased and ridership numbers swelled, so has the outcry from some residents and officials who complained that a historic town center is no place for a bus terminal and all its trappings - diesel exhaust fumes and trash left at bus stops.
In peak season, four buses an hour rolled into the downtown at about the same time, transferring passengers between buses headed down-Island to Tisbury and Edgartown and those headed up-Island to Aquinnah and Menemsha.
Selectmen, along with police chief Beth Toomey and VTA administrator Angela Gompert, tried all kinds of tinkering, mostly moving bus stops within the town center, but none of it appeased the critics who wanted the hub out of the village center.
But this latest plan accomplishes that goal. According to the business district scenario created by the transit authority, buses would converge on the business district for transfers. As for the town center, buses will still pick up and drop off some passengers there - but not at the same time.
Under the new scenario, State Road in West Tisbury would see service hourly instead of once every two hours. Also, service to Aquinnah from all three down-Island towns would be improved.
But there are also downsides. The plan would require another bus and more hours on the road, increasing costs by about $90,000. Also, from a planning standpoint, the new proposal is complicated.
Instead of one bus dedicated to a particular route, buses will change routes throughout the day. That means that if one bus is late or breaks down, it will throw the whole system out of whack.
"The underlying theme is that we're making it work because of political pressure and not because this has any basis in transportation," said VTA planner Andrew Grant.
What's being created, he said, is a "shifting hub," which will require buses to drop some passengers in West Tisbury town center to wait for one transfer while going on to the business district to drop passengers for another transfer.
"It's like asking hockey players to do figure skating routines," said Mr. Grant, pointing out that drivers will now have to communicate very closely with one another so that passengers don't miss connections.
But both Ms. Gompert and Mr. Grant believe the plan is workable. And depending on where town leaders can find a site, it could even benefit businesses in the district, much like it did Alley's General Store.
Mr. Alley said the town is looking at both town-owned and privately owned sites in the business district. He said that there might be an area near the Middletown Exchange shopping area or possibly the back side of the public safety building.
"There have been concerns raised by the fire and police chiefs," he said, "but there appears to me to be a sufficient amount of land to the rear of the public safety building that could host a hub."
Both Chief Toomey and Mrs. Mitchell toured the area Wednesday, but Mrs. Mitchell said it is too soon to talk about specific sites under consideration.
But officials sound much more optimistic about this most recent solution. When the bus committee appointed by selectmen recommended moving the hub to Manter Field, neighbors objected. The airport was another option pursued by the committee, but it was quickly rejected for space and scheduling reasons.
Finally, the bus committee, led by Glenn Hearn, pushed for a plan that would have converted the transit routes to a through-bus system with no transfers happening in town. Transit planners also rejected that idea, arguing that it was inefficient.
In the end, West Tisbury is still a crossroads town, and transit leaders are committed to seeing the town play its role in the regional approach to mass transportation.
Just a mile and a half from the village center, the business district is still a viable midway point, according to Mr. Alley. "Time-wise, the business district isn't that far off the mark," he said. "I'm extremely hopeful this solution can be worked out."