Andrew McKeever Photo
At left, Pauline Moore, Manchester’s economic development officer, and Steve Nichols, a member of the town’s Select Board, attend an opening launch of a new bus service that links Manchester with the Albany-Rensselaer train station.
GNAT-TV News Project
MANCHESTER — Bus service to the Albany, N.Y. train station from Manchester commenced on Friday, Aug. 25, when a Vermont Translines coach pulled out the parking area behind the Northshire Bookstore shortly before 6 a.m.
Vermont Translines has partnered with Amtrak, the passenger rail service, to provide two trips daily, one which leaves the bookstore at 5:55 a.m., and a second one at 1:40 p.m. to the Albany-Rensselaer train station, as well as the bus terminal in Albany and the Albany airport. The bus will also make a stop in Bennington at the Bennington Station restaurant.
The Vermont Shires Connector, as the new service is known, will reach the Albany-Rensselaer train station in just under two hours. Other pick up points in Manchester include the newly built Hampton Inn and the Equinox Resort. Riders going the entire route from any of the three pickup locations in Manchester to the Albany airport in Colonie, N.Y. should anticipate a total travel time of about two hours and 45 minutes. The one way fare from end-to-end will be $19.50. It will be $17 from the three Manchester locations to the train station, and $17.50 to get to the Albany bus station.
“It’s a great opportunity for our company, and we’re excited about the amount of enthusiasm in both the Manchester and Bennington communities about connecting them to the world,” said Chip Desautels, the assistant general manager of Premier Coach, of which Vermont Translines is a division. The Milton, Vt. -based company also provides bus service from Burlington to Albany on existing routes and operates about 70 coaches in total, he added.
The existing bus service from Burlington includes a stop in Manchester at the Double Hex Restaurant. Riders boarding there are taken to the bus terminal in Bennington before making the trip to the Albany airport and the Albany bus terminal. That route, however, does not currently include a stop at the Albany-Rensselaer train station.
Passengers planning to travel by bus from Albany can include the cost of the bus fare to or from the train station when they are purchasing their train tickets from Amtrak, Desautels said.
Projections on possible ridership are for the moment, unclear.
“That was one of our initial questions to the state when they wanted us to bid,” Desautels said. “It’s been something that a number of business organizations, legislators and what not, have had an interest in for a number of years. Everybody’s optimistic, so hopefully if we build it, the people will come.”
Funding for the new bus service comes from federal sources and will be distributed through Vtrans, the state’s transportation agency. It is expected to run in the $300-350,000 range for the first year, Barbara Donovan, the public transit program manager for Vtrans stated in an email. The state will pony up 20 percent of cost with the rest being from federal sources, at least at the outset.
That’s less than some earlier estimates had reckoned. Based on the cost of running a full 50 person coach-style bus, a 2014 study conducted by Amtrak at Vtrans request pegged the cost at more than $664,000, less $174,00 in anticipated revenues from passenger fares, plus food and beverage sales, leaving a more than $490,000 gap to be filled by state and federal funding. Amtrak’s estimate was based on a projected ridership of about 3,400 passengers. Using a smaller 12-15 passenger bus van would reduce the projected subsidy to about $392,000, the 2014 study stated. These numbers were based on Amtrak providing the dedicated bus service.
Cost estimates shrank further when the service was to be supplied by an existing intercity bus carrier. Then, projections estimated the need for an operating subsidy of $379,600 for the 50 seat bus and $237,250 for the smaller 12-15 bus van.
There will be no local funds involved in the funding match, said Pauline Moore, Manchester’s economic development officer, during the opening ceremonies held behind the Northshire Bookstore in a parking area used to drop off customers arriving by tour bus and adjacent to the Langway Motors sales lot.
“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to get to Manchester and enjoy everything we have to offer,” Moore said. “We were lucky that Vtrans was willing to talk about this and get it financed and now we just have to make it succeed.”
The state has guaranteed funding for one year, and if the experiment proves successful, she hoped there would be a second year of funding, she said.
Several sectors of the area’s economy have urged the town’s government to push forward on the bus-to the-train and plane service. Hotels, groups planning weddings, as well as senior citizens have been among them pushing the bus service, she said.
And it’s a two-way street she added — not only will it make it easier for visitors to get here, but it will be a plus for local residents wanting to get to Albany, New York City or other points served by Amtrak.
It’s been more than 20 years since Manchester was connected to passenger rail service and the Bennington County Regional Commission has been among the groups active in trying to find a replacement. Restoring actual passenger rail service from Albany through Bennington to Manchester has foundered over the projected costs of railroad track upgrades that would be needed, as well as technical and other regulatory issues, the BCRC wrote in a letter to Vtrans in 2015, while noting the cheaper alternative of a direct bus link. Such a link also offered a twice-a-day service which could be synchronized with Amtrak’s train schedule, said Jim Sullivan, the executive director of the BCRC, in the 2015 letter.
Sullivan was pleased with the resumption of the bus service which began last Friday, he said in an email.
“I am pleased with the routes, timetables, vehicles and ticketing through Amtrak, but there is work to be done on some details such as marketing (Vtrans is working on a plan along with local business groups), coordination with car rental companies and better signs/information at the shuttle stop locations,” he stated.