Thursday, August 16, 2007

Altamont Fair Nixes Bus Riders to be Cost Effective

I've been spending so much time waiting for the bus, that I haven't been posting as much as I expected this summer. There have been a few items in the news the past week that I need to comment on, but the 13th hour news about NO FREE BUS SERVICE to the Altamont Fair is devastating -- and must be discussed now.

Apparently, it was a business decision to by the fair to renege on the agreement with CDTA to provide free bus service -- as the TU stated, and as Andrew from the Altamont Fair told me when I called, it wasn't cost effective to continue with the current agreement with CDTA. When I asked when the decision was made to not go forward with the CDTA contract this year, he told me he was not going to discuss their business decisions. Okay, so I checked out the Altamont Fair's website, their homepage states the following, "The Altamont Fair is a three county fair representing Albany, Schenectady and Greene Counties. It is a non-profit, public educational and historical society supported entirely by admissions, rentals, contributions and the assistance of hundreds of volunteers."

Hmmm... the Altamont Fair is a non-profit educational and historical society, they exist to serve the public, yet this year made a business decision to only serve the public who can get there by means other than the bus. Outrageous.

I also called CDTA yesterday, and spoke to a customer service representative where I left my request for CDTA to provide regular fare service to the Fair. This should not even be a question. When the Altamont Fair pulled out on their agreement, it didn't relinquish CDTA's responsibility to serve the public who expects service.

I've been telling my daughter for WEEKS that we'd take the bus to the fair. She looks forward to going every year, it's one of our summer traditions -- like going swimming at our city pools, walking to Washington Park for the Park Playhouse show, and not having to stress about homework. It's the only fair we attend- as Albany residents, it is OUR county fair, though perhaps this year, we'll need to switch to the Schaghticoke Fair since there will be bus service to that one. Of course, we have our bus passes that we've already paid for so I wasn't concerned about the service being free -- though free is good. I always like free. We took the bus to the fair a few years ago when our car wasn't working, it was great. Didn't have to deal with parking or getting stuck in traffic and the car overheating (which also happened one year). The buses ran regularly, all day long, until pretty late in the evening. More frequently, actually than some regular CDTA bus lines that just don't run at all on Saturdays/ Saturdays and Sundays (a topic for an upcoming post.)

A friend of mine gave me a CDTA bus map which is also available online, though not in the most usable format. It does appear that if I wanted to go to Altamont on a weekday (no weekend service), I could have gone there via the Altamont Express line (bus 21) last night-- leaves downtown Albany at 4:30 and 5:15 each weekday --that's it! So, my daughter and I could have made it to the fair Thursday evening, camped out someplace in Altamont, and woken up this morning to catch that Altamont Express to downtown Albany at 6:55. If we'd done that I'd be running home now to shower, and I could still make it to work today. Now, that would have been an adventure.

So, I take away a couple of questions from this...

1. Is the Altamont Fair in the business of being cost effective at the expense of serving the public?

2. Where is CDTA's leadership in providing transportation to our region regardless of agreements with other entities?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Mall Trek

Personally, I try to avoid malls whenever possible. The artificially created "town center" has never appealed to me, and that's putting it mildly. Granted, when I first moved to Albany as a freshman at the University at Albany I got my first Albany job at Crossgates. It was there that I learned just how many people flock to the mall to shop. And while I try to avoid taking trips to the mall, sometimes, living here, I've just got to bite the bullet and do it. There aren't many other options.

I learned a couple of weeks ago when I read this letter to the editor that the CDTA bus does not go into the Colonie Center mall parking lot anymore. This is outrageous and dangerous. I'm glad people are speaking up about it, including this person in today's paper. Of course, the bus doesn't go into the "Northway Mall" (is it still called that?) / Target parking lot across the street either -- and I don't think it has since they took down Northway Mall and put in the current big box shopping center structure there. The truth is there are many places designed for consumers where the bus just doesn't go directly.

I was doing a bit of research and found this article that I missed over the winter about RPI students focusing on solving real world problems... the kids had some good ideas. I'd like to see more focus on getting low income and working class people around safely and efficiently-- from home to work to school to the grocery store to the mall.

And... what about car sharing? Here's a marketing industry article about it too. When I first heard about this a few years ago, I thought, "Eureka!" I don't want to own a car, but once or twice a month, I'd like to be able to use one for a few hours and do some shopping. I've written to a few of the companies asking them to come here -- haven't heard back from them yet. This would be great for me... and how about some innovation in non-profit/ human services organizations to make car sharing available for those low to moderate income earners who also need to get around the region?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Holiday quiz - UPDATED July 6

Rather than play catch-up with a long narrative about the experiences I've had without a car over the past six(ish) weeks, I decided to play this little game with you.
Special thanks for the idea for this game goes to a friend from high school

Go to the comments section for the answers

Section 1 - The Bus
1. Since riding the bus regularly, I have experienced all of the following except one:
a. For the first time, traveled by bus across the Hudson for a meeting one evening at Hudson Valley Community College . I was pleasantly surprised with how fast and convenient the ride was.
b. Taken the bus to the Mater Christi pool with my daughter and her friends.
c. Never had to wait more than ten minutes for a bus.

2. My doctor's office is in Slingerlands, on the bus line in a building off of New Scotland Road. 6 buses per day/ per direction (6 in each direction-- to and from Albany) go into the parking lot to serve patrons of the medical offices in the building. This is an important service for patients who rely on public transporation so they don't have to trudge onto the busy road to search for a bus stop, and dodge vehicles since there's no sidewalk on that stretch. Which one of the following does not reflect my experience?
a. I had to leave my office before noon so that I could catch the bus to get to the office in time for my 1 p.m. appointment.
b. I was thrilled to leave my appointment at 1:35, the perfect amount of time to be waiting outside on a sunny day for the bus scheduled to arrive at 1:53 and take me back downtown. That bus though, never showed up. I called CDTA after waiting for about 1/2 hour (and becoming friends with a fiesty senior citizen who comes from a place with a better public transporation system; she had quite a mouthful about the poor quality of public transportation she's experienced since moving to Albany); I learned that the bus was already downtown. Why hadn't the bus made it into the lot? Had it been really early or did the driver not make the scheduled trip into the lot? The next bus showed up at 2:53, and I got back to work at about 3:30. If I had driven to the appointment, I would have been gone from my office for no longer than 1 1/4 hours, but this trip wound up taking me almost 4 hours.
c. This was the easiest bus trek yet!

3. I don't like standing at a bus stop and waiting. So, if bus stops are relatively close to each other, I'll walk along in the direction I'm travelling while keeping my eyes out for the bus. Which of following did not happen to me all in one day?
a. I walked from CDPHP (where there is no bus stop) to the corner of Manning Blvd and Washington before I caught a bus on a weekday morning. Parts of this walk were extremely dangerous because there's no sidewalk along upper Washington Avenue.
b. I was at the co-op heading towards the Mater Christi swimming pool (more on this pool's location later) between 4:45 and 5:00 p.m. on a weekday , and I decided to take the Number 1 to the Number 30 at Allen and Central to catch the NUmber 13 at Allen and New Scotland. When I got off the Number 1, I saw that I had missed the 30 across Allen by mere seconds. I walked over 1 1/2 miles from Central and Allen to Allen and New Scotland with absolutely no 30 bus going in my direction. Then when I got to New Scotland I waited 10 minutes for a Number 13 to show up!
c. I was walking to catch a bus on Madison Avenue, and the bus went right by me because I didn't make it to a bus stop yet.

4. I have found one the following to be true of the CDTA bus service for getting around the Albany area.
a. The bus service is sufficient, it operates 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, providing reliable transportation to those who need to get around without cars.
b. I am shocked at the lack of public transportation available on weekends. The number of bus lines that have significantly reduced service on Saturdays and absolutely no service on Sundays is appalling.

5. Which one of the following accurately reflects my experience with the CDTA summerfun pass for kids under 16 ($17 for a summer full of bus riding)?
a. This is a well-publicized program and CDTA even coordinated with the Albany City School District to help get the word out.
b. I read an article about it in the Times Union.
c. I found out about it by chance, and it cant' be purchased the same place that I buy my monthly pass (KeyBank), but rather can be purchased either through Mr. Subb (I don't think I've ever been to a Mr. Subb shop), a CDTA office, or even though it doesn't say it here
it also appears to be available for sale online.

Section 2 - The Shopping Cart
6. On the first day without a car, I realized it was time to buy a shopping cart. That day, I needed to go to the co-op and Hannaford. Which of the following is not true about my search for a shopping cart.
a. I found my shopping cart at the poorly organized monstrosity, the Family Dollar on Central Avenue that's right near the co-op.
b. When I asked a friend if he knew where I could purchase a shopping cart, he said, "you mean one of those old lady carts? Try the Family Dollar."
c. When I found a discount store that sold shopping carts, I had a choice between a big shopping cart and a smaller one.

7. When I got to Hannaford with my shopping cart, I looked for those hooks on the store cart to hang my newly purchased personal shopping cart while I shopped. Which of the following reflects my experience?
a. I couldn't find any hooks to fasten my own shopping cart to, but one of the employees who works at Hannaford came up to me and offered to hold my shopping cart in a secure location while I shopped, talk about excellent customer service!
b. I fastened my new shopping cart to those hooks that come standard with grocery store shopping carts This made it really easy for me to shop.
c. I couldn't find any hooks to fasten my shopping cart to the store's cart, and was at a complete loss until I noticed someone else with a shopping cart a few feet away in the produce area. I saw that he had turned his cart upside down and it was hanging relatively securely in the space between the handle you push and the front basket. I played copy-cat and was ready to roll.

8. Since buying my shopping cart, I purposefully walk tall sporting a proud grin as I roll my cart around town. Which of the following is not true:
a. I realized the cart I bought can fit a lot of groceries in it, but it's too big to take on a crowded bus!
b. I also purchased 2 new foldable coolers that I take with me for goods that need to be kept cold. This was a wise investment, and has been working out really well.
c. At a recent gathering, one parent I know asked me if she'd seen me walking around with a shopping cart. When I told her she likely had, she said that she was going to go out and purchase her own cart and start walking with me to the grocery store.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Training It

The TU has an article this morning about the investigation into Senate Majority Leader Bruno's use of public funds. Here's the article:
Interest grows in Bruno's travels

I like getting places quickly. Apparently, Joe does too -- at least that's what Spitzer spokesman Darren Dopp says of Bruno's requests for police escorts, lights and sirens.

This native New Yorker has a handy bit of travel advice for the Senator -- try the subway-- it's the fastest way around town, and it'll save all of us some money.

And speaking of trains and quality of life, a member of the Albany Common Council has been thinking about that.
Gee, limit hazardous materials coming through our city, which also happens to be the Capital of our state... sounds like a good idea to me. Out of the Council's jurisdiction? Not enough staff to monitor? What is all of this opposition really about?

Visit me on July 4, for a little guessing game about my non-driving life in Albany.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Free Ride on CDTA -- act NOW

Yesterday this article was printed in the TU- A free ride for at least one day.
Even those of us already riding qualify --excellent! Why not ride for free for a day? If you're interested, you need to move fast on this. The article in the paper states:

Commuters have until Saturday to participate online at or through the mail.

I'll need to find out how many folks sign up, and what I'd really like to know is whether those who try the bus will be converts to CDTA after their day of free riding.

I'll tell you, I'd like to get one of these free rides for my daughter. This week, I've been taking her on the bus to the babysitter's each morning since school is out and she's not thrilled with the concept of walking (that's putting it mildly). At a dollar per ride, the bus fare adds up quickly.

Well, look at this! A little visit to the CDTA website -- a couple of clicks, and this seems like a GREAT DEAL if your child will be riding the bus regularly. $17 for two months of riding. Will I take my daughter on the bus more than 17 times between July 1 and August 31? I've got to do the math. This is her last week at the babysitter's, then it's a few days of winging it until it's on to camp in the walkable neighborhood... so, this deal may not be worth it for me. But, I'm glad to see it's an option. I wonder how well this has been publicized?

I've had some great experiences taking the bus. As someone who always loves a deal, I've gotta say, that every time I swipe my little 7-day pass, I get a warm fuzzy thinking about how that $44 I laid out for my 7-day monthly bus pass is getting put to good use. Today I'll have to remember to purchase my July pass, so I can get the full value in case I want to take a ride this Sunday, the first of the month.

I've also had some mildly irritating and some extremely frustrating experiences on the bus, and if you come back, you can read about that soon.

Until then...think about that free ride, maybe I'll see you on the bus!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's easy to talk the talk

It was a sunny Sunday in May, and the 1993 Volvo just didn't want to go. The car had a temperamental history. Seemed to stop working for no apparent reason every once in a while. At least this time it was in my driveway, and not stuck in the Price Chopper parking lot, as it had been at least once before. I try to look at the bright side.

Gas prices had been rising. I'd been running my mouth about the planet, recycling, walkable neighborhoods, fossil fuels and the future. Feeling guilty every time I drove someplace that I really could walk to, or that was an easy bus ride away...places like my office, my daughter's school, the co-op.... So, rather than call AAA or a friend for help, it seemed the timing was right to venture out without a car.

I grabbed the two Sunday papers sitting on the front porch, and walked the healthy mile to the Muddy Cup for a relaxing Sunday morning read. It almost felt like the old days, the days before I was a Mom, when I had so much choice about how to spend my non-working hours, and would often enjoy Sunday mornings reading the paper in my neighborhood coffee shop.

It really was a beautiful spring morning. The air felt great, and I was proud to be using my neighborhood sidewalks.

After spending some leisurely time lounging and looking at the paper, I realized that time was ticking. My free time was actually limited-- and groceries needed getting.

Grocery shopping without a car is doable. I know this. I've spent much of my life shopping without a car. In my hometown of NYC, we didn't hop in the car to go grocery shopping -- that would have been counter-productive. And when I first came to Albany as an undergraduate student, I didn't have a car for years. I walked to Price Chopper and the co-op back then, so I could certainly do it now. I chose to live, work and send my daughter to school all right here in the same city after all, and part of that reasoning was that I could indeed get around without a car.

One thing that's different though, is that I'm now shopping for more than just me, so, as a walking person, I'd need a way to transport those family groceries back home... I'd need to purchase a shopping cart. And so began the start of my spring to action experiment -- learning to walk the walk.

It's now been over a month, and though the Volvo has been fixed, I haven't been running it. It's in the driveway -- for emergency use only. I've been out walking, I purchased a 7-day bus pass for the month of June, I rented a car one weekend because I had to be a whole bunch of different places quickly ( places I wouldn't trust that Volvo to get to and back!) , and I'm adjusting to the fact that it takes longer to get errands done when you aren't driving... at least here in Albany.