RICHMOND, Vt. (AP) — Gov. Peter Shumlin announced new efforts Wednesday to reduce the number of commuters making daily trips into parking-space starved Montpelier, including expanded outlying park-and-ride lots and discounted bus fares.
"The cheapest parking space is the one we don't have to build," Shumlin told reporters at the Richmond park-and-ride lot off Interstate 89, described as the busiest in the state.
"These changes will also help commuters save money, ease parking problems in Montpelier and reduce the state's carbon footprint. Everybody wins," he said.
Parking problems in the capital city have worsened by the addition of hundreds of state employees who were moved to Montpelier after the state office complex in Waterbury was closed by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. The problem is especially acute in winter and in spring, when the Legislature is in session.
The plan announced by Shumlin, Agency of Transportation officials and the chairs of the House and Senate transportation committees won kudos from Bonnie Boyce, an administrative secretary in the attorney general's office who has been outspoken on the parking issue as a member of the Vermont State Employees' Association.
"For months now, myself and other VSEA members have been meeting with state and city officials to voice our parking concerns and discuss possible solutions to the crisis — and it is a crisis," Boyce said.
Boyce said she ducked the problem by beginning to take a commuter bus to Montpelier from St. Johnsbury.
"I decided to take it even though it makes my commute almost two hours one way as it is a savings for me," she said.
Under the plan, it will be even more of a savings because of a 50 percent discount on bus tickets for state employees commuting to Montpelier. For Boyce, a one-way trip between St. Johnsbury and Montpelier will be reduced from $2 to $1.
Members of the VSEA have been pressing for months for solutions, conducting petition drives and holding a "town meeting" at the Statehouse in March.
Besides the discount, Shumlin announced a "guaranteed ride home" program for employees reluctant to commute without their cars for fear of being unable to respond to an emergency at home. In rare instances when employees must make an unscheduled departure, the state will find and pay for a ride, he said.
Those who car pool will get preferential parking at state lots, and employees who walk or bike to work will get discounts at area businesses.