Financial difficulties at the Capital District Transportation Authority have put the brakes on plans for expanded service in Schenectady County.
Carm Basile, CDTA’s business development director, cited expectations of higher diesel fuel costs and tighter state aid in the 2008-10 budget as specific problems.
“The reality is that it’s difficult to release a 37,000-service-hour expansion when you’re facing a multimillion dollar budget deficit,” he said this week. “Right now, we’re looking at all our of our alternatives.”
He said the plans for expansion could have amounted to the 37,000 extra hours of bus trips annually, costing possibly $3 million.
Basile said budget details are not clear yet, but CDTA is facing problems with the economy like many others. Diesel fuel is critical. Basile said CDTA managed to pre-purchase fuel for its fleet at roughly $3 per gallon between 2008 and 2009, but the agreement expires in April.
Schenectady County was the second slated for service expansion in CDTA’s long-range plans for the Capital Region. Last year, expanded service hours in Saratoga County resulted in nearly triple the ridership within six months. CDTA officials had also predicted robust growth in Schenectady County. Basile said annual ridership was expected to jump from 3 million to 4.3 million — more than 40 percent.
Over the past year, CDTA developed plans for neighborhood services that would feed the main corridors along routes 5, 7, 20 and 50, rather than running parallel to them.
“We were trying to provide better neighborhood connections,” said CDTA spokeswoman Margo Janack.
The authority had initially anticipated public hearings on the plans this fall, with startup before the spring. Instead, Basile said, they’ll review the plans and see if any parts can be worked in without new money.
“If there’s a way to phase in some of this, we’re going to go for it,” he said.
The proposed bus rapid transit line along 16 miles of Route 5 between Schenectady and Albany will not be affected. Janack said the development of that is federally funded.
City and county officials were dismayed to learn about the delays, but said they understood the reasoning.
Schenectady Mayor Brian U. Stratton said the city could greatly benefit both economically and environmentally by a bolstered transit service.
“When we’re in a situation where we want to do everything we can to be a greener community and encourage economic growth, we don’t want to pull away resources that can help expand that,” he said. “But we’re facing our own financial challenges here so I certainly could understand.”
James Buhrmaster, the chairman of the county Legislature’s Transportation Committee, credited CDTA for taking a pragmatic approach, even if it means delay.
“We’re all on the same page without question,” he said. “My take is we have to go along with it and accept an indefinite postponement.”
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