The Department of Public Works is expanding public transportation, territorywide, according to Public Works Commissioner Nelson Petty Jr., creating a need for more employees.
Petty spoke at a ceremony marking the completion of the St. Thomas transportation hub. A gathering of agency personnel, elected leaders and guests attended a Jan. 8 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the VITRAN bus terminal in Estate Contant. Petty used the occasion to announce the start of a project to expand and modernize the VITRAN terminal in Estate Hope, St. Croix.
He also pointed to the arrival of 10 new mid-range VITRAN buses – four for St. Thomas, four for St. Croix and two for St. John. Delivery of the new buses came within a few weeks of the St. Thomas terminal project’s conclusion.
Much of the station’s expansion was made possible by a $1.2 million competitive grant and a dozen years of federal funding accumulated over time, spent to complete the project in phases, said Petty and VITRAN Operations Manager Stephen Monsanto.
As a result, the public transit system needs a larger workforce, the commissioner said.
“We have a lot of positions open for drivers. Come into the department, come into the Division of Personnel, so we can have additional drivers for the buses we have online,” Petty said.
“As our society grows, the need for public transportation also grows exponentially. And we’ve seen that growth in our ADA and paratransit operations.”
The work of modernizing the facility began in 2005 with the addition of a second floor on the main terminal building in Contant, Monsanto said. Three garage bays took shape on the ground floor. Installation of new fencing created a secure parking space.
The final phase was construction of a vehicle washing station, which is where the ribbon-cutting ceremony took place.
“I came in 2007 and we’d already completed the second floor and the elevator shaft. It took from 2007 until now to get to this. The big hold up was we have an underground fuel tank. The permitting process is long for that; getting a contract that was within our budget. The funds that we had, it was a federal grant, so we had to back everything into that,” Monsanto said.
But once everything was in place, he said, it took about a year to finish up.
One of the next steps towards providing efficient service will be the construction of transfer stations on St. Thomas and St. Croix. The stations will help drivers keep their vehicles closer to the starting point of their routes, without having to return to the Contant terminal.
Petty also mentioned his wish to introduce a SmaRT Ride alert system. Already in use in cities across the mainland U.S. SmaRT Ride allows transit officials to track the progress of vehicles on the route. It’s microtransit system lets passengers know how soon a bus will arrive at their stop.
If the system works as expected, commuters can look forward to public transit buses arriving on the hour, instead of every two hours, the current standard.
VITRAN provides 450,000 rides yearly. A sizeable portion are free rides for residents older than 60. Several years ago, lawmakers passed a bill providing free VITRAN trips for seniors, without identifying a funding stream to pay for those free trips.
That’s forcing the service to find creative ways to offset the costs. Petty said Public Works is weighing the marketing of space on buses and at bus stops to host advertising.
“We look at what we have in the pipeline for VITRAN, we see a bright, bright future for VITRAN,” the commissioner said.