Stagecoach bus driver Seth Corbett has a quiet manner and a kind smile as he helps passengers on and off his bus. He's the newest bus driver at Randolph’s Stagecoach Transportation Services. When he joined the organization in the spring, he became part of a 40-year tradition of getting Central Vermonters where they need to go.
Passenger Jaimond Arbusio is already on board when the bus picks up Barbara Brown and other passengers at the Greater Randolph Senior Center.
“I just had a birthday," Brown says. "I’m 87, I go to the senior center. It’s like one big family.”
Brown says the bus keeps her mobile, and Arbusio and passenger Mary Sargent agree.
“These are my wheels," Brown explains. "The bus is my wheels, the Stagecoach."
"Same with me," Arbusio adds.
Sargent chimes in, "Yes."
When asked what life would be like without the bus Sargent adds, "We’d be all staying home."
"Pretty sad on my part," Arbusio adds. "I would probably be stuck at home, especially in the winter.”
Arbusio has a mild form of cerebral palsy, which he says makes walking on ice a frightening experience. But between the bus service and helpful drivers like Corbett, he can get wherever he needs to go.
Mary Sargent used to drive herself, but now she says she’s reliant on the bus as well.
“I had a stroke last summer, so I can’t drive anymore," she says. "So I depend on Stagecoach.”
Jim Moulton is the Executive Director of Stagecoach Transportation Services, which started in Bethel in 1976. The organization moved to downtown Randolph in 1981, where Moulton says it continued to offer rides with vetted volunteer drivers.
“It started with that basic dial-a-ride need," he explains. "You know, the recognition that there are people who did not have the ability to get to those critical, particularly medical appointments, or grocery shopping or things like that. Volunteers were recruited. A little bit of funding was found through the federal department of transportation, that sort-of seed money. And then it’s just grown.”
Moulton says Stagecoach’s basic mission is about moving people around. And the organization’s secret to success is its ability to adapt to rural Vermonters’ needs.
“Now it may look like busses, primarily. Forty years ago it looked like just volunteers, primarily," Moulton says. "In the future it will be partnering with Uber; it will be partnering with Lift; it will be working with driverless cars or driverless busses. All of those things will play a role, but public transportation will still be needed because individuals will not, either be able to, or will not want to be car owners.”
That strategy of adaptability also applies to Stagecoach’s day-to-day services. Drivers have fixed routes, but Moulton says passengers can flag the bus down at any safe location.
“It’s effectively like government-subsidized hitchhiking," he says. "You know, somebody stands on the side of the road, they put their thumb out and a vehicle stops. This one happens to have a paint scheme on it with somebody who’s getting paid to do it, who has been trained and is safe. But it’s the same basic concept.”
Unlike hitchhiking, there is a fee to ride the bus. But Moutlon points out it’s much more affordable than owning and operating a car. Stagecoach is a nonprofit organization. It relies on federal grants, state and local tax money, and private donations to keep fares low.
Moulton says affordability is just one of the things that attracts passengers to public transportation in Vermont.
“One of our phrases is ‘transportation for everyone’ and we really mean that," he says. "Public transportation cuts across the economic sector, the social sector, the medical sector, the environmental sector. We have the opportunity to impact all of those areas, particularly for people who cannot drive, who do not have a choice.”
Back on the bus, as passenger Dorothy Monroe disembarks at her dentist’s office, she gives a shout-out for public transportation. As she departs she says, “The best way to ride is Stagecoach.”
In celebration of its 40 years in business, Stagecoach is throwing a party at the Randolph Rec Field from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.