The year 2020 was a year unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before; we said that often. But at the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA), the numbers always reminded us of that.

Ridership in July and August was down by 65 per cent.

Ridership even during the months with far fewer visitors was down 41 per cent on average.

What does that mean? Less fare revenue, more service reductions and potential funding cutbacks.

But we have survived.

Now what will 2021 look like?

The VTA will take delivery of four new electric buses in the spring of 2021. This will bring the VTA to 16 electric buses out of the total 32 buses in the fleet. The VTA will be half electric. The noise, dirt and fumes of the diesel buses will continue to drop. There is probably not another transit authority on the East Coast doing better than we are in electrifying our transit system.

In 2021 the VTA will continue to plan and seek capital funding, so that in another six years the entire fleet will be electric and our goal realized.

Eight new electric canopies at the VTA’s operations center, located in the business park, are under construction now and will come on line in the spring of 2021. This project includes large batteries to store the on-site solar generation, electricity for use during the night and on dark days. The canopies are expected to generate 80 per cent of the electricity needed by the VTA for its electric buses this summer.

During the winter months, when we have always needed to adjust services, our micro-transit system is offering flexibility to VTA riders to ensure that the service they need to get to work and appointments continues.

West Tisbury town officials are in meetings with the VTA now to create an inductive charging station up-Island in 2021. There are a couple of locations that we are looking at. Hopefully a final destination will be decided soon so that we can get construction underway in the fall. We will be learning a lot from this operation of inductive chargers so that as we install others on the Island we will be a lot smarter about creating a 21st century transit system.

The VTA is rolling out a Love the VTA community service campaign for February, March and April in an effort to increase ridership and remind Islanders — riders or not — of the value of a modern transit system. In February, during school vacation week the VTA will offer free rides to school-age children and their care-giver traveling to Island programs or activities, including at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Polly Hill Arboretum, Felix Neck and all public outdoor conservation properties and beaches. During these three months anyone riding on a VTA bus to a Covid-19 vaccination appointment will ride for free. And in April, the VTA in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce will be offering free and reduced ride services to businesses, as part of an employee rewards program.

Alongside all these changes, the VTA is in ongoing talks with state and federal officials to ensure that the Martha’s Vineyard transit system receives its fair share of economic stimulus funding and easement of rules and regulations as we progress through the pandemic and support our community’s recovery.

Last year was tough, but 2021 at the VTA looks like we will gain the traction we need to be the transit system the Island wants and deserves for many years ahead.

Angie Gompert is the administrator for the Vineyard Transit Authority.