Improve Transportation Services
Expand services, optimize the riding experience, and increase awareness
February 15, 2019
Columbia County Public Transportation has improved since I took office in January 2018, but we still have a long way to go.
In Summer 2018, we piloted a Summer Youth Bus, making it easier for young people to participate in youth programs. In Fall 2018, we launched a new after-school bus.
Improved Bus Fleet
With an aging fleet, the county has struggled to have enough quality, functional vehicles. Riders have suffered—there have been extremely cold days where the bus had no heat! In December 2018, we got two new buses. Another new bus is scheduled for July 2019. In addition, we are currently exploring the purchase of a fourth bus.
Many people are unaware of what services are offered and how to use them. Given that we provide a service, we should make stronger efforts to make sure people are able to access it.
Create Accurate Route Maps and Schedules
I’ve discovered that many of the posted schedules are inaccurate and confusing. An updated version of the Shopping Shuttle with a map and schedule is in the works and should be publically available on February 19.
We also need to update the schedules for the additional routes.
Update County Website
I’ve helped make improvements to the County website. We added routes and shuttle options and cleaned up the language.
I’m working with the City of Hudson and Columbia County to update, add, and improve bus stop signs. Bus stop signs are an important tool to attract riders and build the brand identity of a system. Bus stops will be clearly visible along with route and schedule information. However, before the signs can be finalized we need to finalize the route maps and schedules.
This sign at 7th and Warren has incorrect schedule information. It also lists a bus company that no longer runs this service.
The city should consider a larger sign review—I wonder if that taxi stand is helpful. I never see taxis waiting at that location and the sign adds more clutter to our signscape.
Publicize Transportation Services
In addition to updating the website, I’d like to see other outreach efforts. This could include person to person outreach, fliers, and signage. The Planning Department is working on creating a printed rider’s guide.
Transportation Key to Workforce Development
Parents face unique challenges accessing workforce programs and employment. Many have difficulty managing complex schedules or need supportive services such as child care to participate in training or work. They also need supports like transportation.
Travel is an essential aspect of our economy, and most employees travel to work. According to the 2017 Housing Needs Assessment of Columbia County, most jobs in Hudson are filled by people who live outside of Hudson and most employed people who live in Hudson are employed outside of Hudson. The 2017 Columbia County Public Transportation Plan notes that while “major employment opportunities are spread throughout the county…The County of Columbia Public Transit System operational times are currently not condusent (sic) with many employment transportation needs…”
The Housing Needs Assessment concludes, “Families who once rented homes and apartments near the urban centers of the county are thus forced to move further out into the country, where they face transportation issues back to major centers of employment and to schools. This migration out of Hudson is driving the numbers of homeless persons up in other areas of the county.” Public transportation needs to fill this important gap and help people access jobs as well as services.
Coordinate and Plan
People living below the poverty level are less likely to own or have access to a personal vehicle to get to work. Compared to other commuters, people below the poverty level are more likely to use lower-cost options such as carpooling, taking public transportation, or using other transportation modes, but such options are less available in rural areas. Some states and localities around the nation have instituted methods to optimize federal funding programs into coordinated and unified systems to serve their citizens, yet creating and administering such coordination is an arduous task. As a result, many rural transit services remain expensive to subsidize and unable to fill the transportation needs of rural businesses and citizens.
We should be thinking bigger and looking for ways to better coordinate all of our transportation services. I suspect that if we look at needs and services across departments and agencies that we will find opportunities to make improvements. Consider the Department of Social Services, Meals on Wheels, Health Consortium, the bus proposal in the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and the County’s already established bus routes.
The County is currently in a contract with Johnston Transportation. The County pays three to four dollars per mile depending on whether the bus is owned by the County or by Johnston.
On February 14, 2018 I voted to take the option of extending the 2016 contract for an additional two years. The contract was initially signed in April 2016. It originated with a request for proposals and Johnston was the winning bidder.
At the February County Government committee, it was suggested that the County put out a new request for proposals for a contract that will cover April 2020 - April 2024.
The transportation program is supported through a NY State regrant of the federal 5311 program. While the service costs around $450,000 a year, the County costs after State reimbursement is around $120,000.
We need to continue to improve these services, optimize the riding experience, and increase awareness.
Columbia County offers public transportation from Hudson to shopping areas, Columbia Greene Community College, and Albany. In addition, Columbia County funds initiatives for senior, veteran, and medical transportation.
What do you think about County public transportation? Let me know how it should be improved.