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CDTA ridership sees first uptick since fare hike

Thursday, September 30, 2010
By Stephen Williams (Contact)
Gazette Reporter

CAPITAL REGION — The Capital District Transportation Authority last month saw its first increase in ridership since a fare increase took effect in April 2009.
Ridership was up 3 percent this past August over August 2009, with just more than one million boardings for the month.

“It’s very good news,” said CDTA Executive Director Carm Basile. “It’s the first time [since the increase] we’ve been able to talk about a ridership increase.”

But on the other hand, CDTA officials reported ridership on the new pilot bus route between Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs is falling far short of what was hoped for. Because of low ridership, the service is unlikely to continue after a $1 million federal grant expires next spring.

The Route 409 bus that is running along Route 9 is averaging only about 50 riders per day, just a fraction of the ridership CDTA had hoped to attract on a route running through Clifton Park, Halfmoon and Malta.

“Ridership is increasing, but it’s still very low in the big picture,” said CDTA board member Georgie Lynch of Saratoga Springs.

The authority’s big picture includes growing ridership elsewhere and continued reductions in state operating aid to mass transit.

It was such financial pressures that led to the increase in the basic transit fare from a dollar to $1.50 in April 2009.

The move was unpopular with riders and resulted almost immediately in a 10 percent to 12 percent loss in ridership, which had been at close to record levels in 2008.

Since last April, when year-to-year comparisons of post-fare-increase ridership were possible, there continued to be a 2 percent to 3 percent decrease, until the number finally went up in August for the first time in 17 months.

The increase “was across the board,” Basile said at the monthly meeting of the CDTA board Wednesday at the Rensselaer rail station.
“We’ve seen particular increases in the Schenectady neighborhood routes,” he added.

Schenectady service was reorganized earlier this summer as part of an ongoing effort to adjust where and when buses run and eliminate low-ridership routes.

The Route 409 pilot was an effort to increase service in Saratoga County, which has less transit service than Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties. It was started last May.
The hope was to attract an average of 15 riders per hour, but Basile said the actual average has been about two riders.

“It just doesn’t appear there is a critical mass in Clifton Park,” he said.

However, he said the pilot service has raised awareness in the Clifton Park-Halfmoon area about the availability of public transit, which could lead to success at some point in the future.

Also Wednesday, CDTA board members expressed unhappiness with plans by Gov. David Paterson to cut state operating aid by an additional $125,000 this year because of the state’s continuing financial trouble.

CDTA Deputy Executive Director Michael Collins said he believes the authority can absorb the cut this year, but there’s a fear that operating aid will be cut again.

“The only alternatives are raising fares or cutting service,” said board member Arthur Young of Albany.