Friday, September 26, 2008

Rochester's Transit System has Creative Minds

Thanks to chrisck's comment on AOA, I read this NY Times article about Rochester's Regional Transit Service (RGRTA), and how they implemented a plan to reduce fares to $1 per bus ride.

The article is interesting on multiple levels, and leaves me questioning more deeply whether CDTA is making the right move with the planned April Fool's fare hike.

In my transit-riding superhero mind, I dream of Plan B from the hardworking CDTA staff that explores some of the strategies used in Rochester, and leads to a decrease in the astronomical fare hike... or even scrapping a hike altogether. A girl can dream, right?

According to the article, Rochester's Transit Authority sees this as a great way to increase ridership:
“With gas prices at record highs, there is no better way to convince people who are beginning to look at public transportation,” said Mark R. Aesch, the chief executive of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, which runs the bus system.
And check out this interesting note in the article:
Just four years ago, the Rochester authority was in financial straits and facing large deficits. Since then, it has lobbied successfully for increases in state aid, receiving $32.8 million this year, up from $16 million four years ago. It helps that a local assemblyman, David F. Gantt, is chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.
Ahhh... so is RGRTA receiving significantly more aid per ride than other transit systems of comparable size? My guess is, probably not -- wouldn't the article have noted if aid was disproportionately distributed?

Then there's this deal with Rochester's school district from the article:

One of the most important is with the Rochester City School District, which uses the Regional Transit Service as the primary bus system for nearly all of its students in the 7th through 12th grades. Several years ago, the school district paid the equivalent of a regular fare for each student rider, according to Mr. Aesch. But about three years ago, with the transit system facing a financial crisis, he began discussions with the district about radically altering the arrangement.

Mr. Aesch told school officials that the money they were paying to transport students only partly covered the cost and that the system could no longer afford the service without a significant increase in payments. The school district agreed to an increase, and it now pays about $2.22 for each student ride.

I don't know what the current deal is between CDTA and Albany's school district, but I doubt an increase in transportation costs would fly in Albany where tax payers are already overburdened paying for all those charter schools.

The article mentions these partnerships which I think CDTA could do A LOT MORE OF:

In Rochester, the transit system has also formed agreements with private businesses and colleges. It runs shuttle buses on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology and provides special weekend service to the campus, for which it receives about $1 million a year. The developer of an apartment complex in suburban Brighton pays $1,200 a year to ensure that a bus line runs by the property.

And last week, the Rochester authority announced a new agreement with Bryant & Stratton College, which has two campuses in the area. Under the deal, the college will pay $17,700 in exchange for 350 bus passes that it can distribute at a discount to students. In exchange, transit officials have agreed to continue service on a little-used section of a bus route that goes to the college’s campus in the suburb of Greece, and to run a bus there later in the day for students taking evening classes.

Yes, CDTA does currently have arrangements with our local colleges and universities, I don't know the details, but my guess is there's room within this sector to pull in more bucks.

Rochester's plan does include some service cuts... but so does CDTA's.

And so it goes...the tale of two transit plans:

One includes a 50% increase per ride, bringing the fare well-above the $1 mark.

The other includes a 20% decrease per ride, bringing the fare down to the psychologically sound $1 mark.

Which plan would entice you to choose the bus?

A Frustrating Week in Local Transit

An old pet peeve of mine, that I was sure was taken care of, never to be seen again - has resurfaced recently.

While most people are panicked about Wall Street crumbling and immersed in the drama of a presidential race that should be a no-brainer, but is bringing our deeply-rooted racism to the surface; I've been stewing over CDTA's return to circular reasoning.

I'm not going to ask why it happened, but I am putting in this request:

Cat chasing tail

Please, CDTA, I don't want to put any more energy into chasing my tail.

Look at your recent media releases, then check out the recent re-route posts on your website, next put on your thinking cap -- or simply copy what other transit systems are doing - like our good friends at Capital Metro!

Here's what you tell us:
Anyone needing more information on the reroutes or other CDTA services is encouraged to contact CDTA’s Customer Information Center at 482-8822 or visit
Well then, give us the re-route info someplace on the website, or if you're not going to do that -- stop sending us there for "more information".

In other CDTA news, fares are going up and service is being cut because current formulas for transportation funding are unstable and insufficient. The 50% fare hike likely to take effect on April Fool's Day 2009 will undoubtedly hurt those who depend on transit the most. I'm hoping some organization(s) out there will have the vision to get assistance to folks whose wallets need that money for rising food and home heating costs.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bus Encounters

As reported on AOA, CDTA has a new jingle targeting the growing green market.

I sometimes find myself singing it while waiting for the bus.

Here are the lyrics:

I ride the bus
As all my friends do
'Cause it's easy and it's green
And it saves us money too
I ride CDTA
Get on board!

I dig the tune, but the truth is, all of my friends do NOT ride the bus. In actuality, very few friends ride the bus. I can count them on one hand.

I have hopes that the tide is turning.

This summer, I met three people rather randomly who recently moved to Albany for work. Included in the standard new-to-town inquiries of "What brought you here?", "How do you like it so far?", I of course managed to throw in the question, "Do you have a car?"

To which they each answered, "No."

My heart smiled.

I followed up with, "Do you plan on purchasing a car?"

To which they each answered, "No."

The smile grew wider.

I praised their decisions, told them I don't have a car, and let them know it can be tricky, but getting around Albany without every day use of a car can indeed be done.

One of those folks arrived in Albany fresh from Jersey to start teaching an English class at UAlbany. I met him at this bus stop in the middle of August.

It's the Crossgates Mall stop. I tend to get into bus talk here, simply because it's a transfer point for me.

In fact, I must look like the living, breathing FAQ of the stop. Here are some common questions I find myself fielding:

"Do you know when the next bus is coming?"

"How do I get to Crossgates Commons?"

"How do I get back to campus?"

"How do I get to Colonie Center?"

"Do you have to pay for the shuttle?"

"Where does the shuttle go?"

I don't have all the answers, but sometimes I know more than the bus drivers. Anytime I don't have an answer, I give them the 411, which for all things CDTA is: 482-8822.

I tell people about Google Transit and CDTA's Trip Planner, and tell them it's a good idea to use both, and to get to some locations along the Shuttlebug line, use neither.

I give away schedules.

I try to explain how the Shuttle works.

I suggest purchasing a $3 day pass for those who will be taking more than three buses in one day. That one's always tough because by the time they've arrived at Crossgates, they've already paid at least one bus fare.

One classic of Summer 2008 occurred in the late morning a few weeks ago.

There was a new
SUNY student sitting on the bench when I arrived. She was carrying her art portfolio on her back, and looked almost desperate, yet very determined.

She asked, "Do you know when the next shuttle to Crossgates Commons will be here? I'm trying to get to Michaels. I've been waiting forever."

My schedule was already in-hand since I wanted to know the answer to that question as well. I told her a bus was scheduled to get there in five minutes, but sometimes they run a little late because this time of day there are fewer shuttles on the road, and they only come about once every forty/ forty-five minutes.

The bus driver taking a cigarette break overheard me. "Really? Wow, I thought they came every 15 minutes. That's what I usually tell people." I explained to him that in early morning and later in the day, he was correct, but the shuttles don't always run that frequently.

There was an older woman who chimed in. Complaining about having to take so many buses.

I put in my two cents about transferring. I have no problem taking more than one bus. To me, that's transit. I do have a problem waiting more than 5 minutes for a connection because it eats away at my time. And I never have enough time.

The older woman was trying to get to Time Warner on Washington Avenue Extension from Troy. She didn't realize the address on Washington Avenue Extension was not Washington Avenue in downtown Albany. She went downtown first to try to find it. She was totally new to the bus thing herself, and frustrated.

The Shuttle pulled in.

We got on. I saw the art student take out a dollar to pay. Before she put her cash in the fare box I asked, "You're a SUNY student aren't you?"

"Yeah," of course, I knew that already.

"You don't have to pay on this bus or on a few other buses either. Just show your ID."

"Wow, thanks."

There was another passenger who was going to Party City, and hoping to be gainfully employed along Washington Avenue Extension, so she asked the driver for a schedule. She wanted to know where to get off the bus. I told her to stay on board until Wal-Mart and explained how to find Party City.

I showed her how to read the schedule because it's confusing. She thanked me.

The SUNY student watched out the window as the bus was arriving at Crossgates Commons. "Oh my god, it's so close. I could have walked!"she said.

The mom in me responded, "It's better to take the bus, there are no sidewalks and it can be really dangerous."

She asked me how to get to Michaels once she got off the bus. We talked about how she'd get back to campus. She had a class at noon, and she was hoping she'd make it.

When she got off the bus, she thanked me.

Immediately after her departure, Julie, the bus driver asked me, "How did you know she was a SUNY student?"

I explained that we'd been talking before Julie pulled up in the shuttle and I could tell by her questions.

When we were approaching Time Warner, the older woman asked, "So the bus will pick me up here?"

Oops, I had forgotten to mention that aspect of the Shuttle!

Julie and I answered together, "You have to call."

See, if you aren't taking the Shuttle to one of the destinations marked on the schedule, you need to call and request a pick-up.

I showed her the phone number printed on the schedule, wished her luck and we said goodbye. And yes, she thanked us.

When I arrived at my office, I had that feeling of inner satisfaction, the feeling that I'd put in a good day's work even though I hadn't yet sat at my desk, turned on my pc, or checked my phone for messages!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Roger Green's Transit Tips

I'm lucky to know Roger Green. He's one of those people I run into just about everywhere I go, and he authors a few good blogs.

On his TU blog, Roger posted some great tips for all of you new folks experimenting with CDTA (and maybe some of you who have been riding for a while, but haven't caught on to some of the finer points). Check it out.

Roger also points out out:
Citizens for Public Transportation will meet this Wednesday evening, September 17, 7:00 PM, at the Albany Public Library, Washington Avenue.
Guest Speaker, Paula Simpson, will address Environmental Justice and Availability. A CDTA representative will attend.
I don't think this transit-riding superhero can make the meeting -- but surely there will be good bus chat at APL this Wednesday.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Casey Seiler survived the summer

I don't have a bicycle.

Not true, I do have one, but it's not operational. The old 10-speed I was given as a birthday present when I turned 13 - boys', I insisted on a boys' bike - is gathering dust in my basement. But I wouldn't trust that one, or won't trust myself on that bike - traversing this region.

I've been meaning to get a new bike- even a new, used bike from the Troy Bike Rescue in downtown Albany (akin to Manhattan College in the Bronx) - but it hasn't happened. There's one big thing holding me back: Fear.

Seilier's piece today got me thinking it's time to get over that fear. Things are looking up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's Primary Day - Polls are Open Noon - 9

When I turned 18, I was so excited to finally register to vote, yet I didn't want to be affiliated with one political party. If I recall at first, I was not. When my dad got wind of what I'd done, he sat me down and explained that here in NYS, if you want to have a real voice at the polls, enrolling in a party is the way to go. I took his advice. I don't think it's hard to guess which party when you put the pieces together...
I live in Albany
+ originally from NYC
+ I use public transit.
= ________________(Not so hard to figure out).

I show up and cast my vote. I think it's genetic.

I'm what they call a "triple prime voter" which means I vote every single time I have the opportunity - general elections, primaries, special elections, school budget and library votes. And yes, I take my daughter with me - as does her dad.

Candidates work really hard to get us triple primes to vote their way. This summer, in the 21st Congressional District where I live there's a 5-way congressional race - with 4 candidates who have very similar positions. This means I've been bombarded with mail pieces, robo-calls, and calls from volunteers. I've even been home a couple of times when folks came to my door -- though it's hard to find me home during canvassing hours because I'm often out myself volunteering for the candidate I think is best.

I dig elections.

If you're enrolled in a party - you can join the triple primes today. If you don't know where to vote, call your county's Board of Elections.

Exercise your rights. Vote today. Polls are open from noon until 9.