Saratoga County

CDTA celebrates successful first year of its BusPlus express service

The Capital District Transportation Authority took a leap of faith a year ago, launching a new expre

The Capital District Transportation Authority took a leap of faith a year ago, launching a new express bus service along Central Avenue despite the authority’s budget woes.

The gamble has paid off. The new BusPlus service that runs between downtown Schenectady and downtown Albany has had a high profile, and officials say it has been a big factor in CDTA’s ridership gains over the last year, accounting for 10 percent of all riders.

The service, unique in upstate New York, uses a limited number of stops and cutting-edge electronic technology that gives its buses an edge in traffic and speeds their trip. The buses have a red color scheme that distinguishes them from CDTA’s standard blue fleet.

The service turned 1 year old Tuesday and has had nearly 1.5 million boardings during that time, even though it’s a premium service — riding BusPlus costs $2, instead of the $1.50 standard bus fare.

For today only, as part of marking its birthday, the public will be able to ride on BusPlus will be free.

“BusPlus has been extremely successful,” said CDTA spokeswoman Margo Janack. “People are using it. It’s exciting.”

Ridership systemwide will be up about 8 percent for the 2011-12 fiscal year that ended Saturday, CDTA officials predicted, because of service changes and higher gas prices in recent months. Authority officials believe total systemwide ridership for the last 12 months will exceed 14.5 million.

The April 3, 2011, launch of BusPlus was the culmination of a decade of planning, using $16 million in federal funding to purchase 15 new diesel-electric hybrid buses, erect new bus shelters and install electronic devices that give buses an advantage in traffic at congested intersections. Technology also provides people waiting for the bus with real-time information on when the next bus is expected.

“All the technology has helped us be faster, improve on-time performance and reliability, and it has improved traffic flow in that corridor,” Janack said.

The 17-mile stretch of Route 5 between the region’s two largest cities — known as Central Avenue in Albany and Colonie and State Street in Schenectady — is the region’s busiest surface road. It runs through a long commercial corridor of restaurants, car dealerships and shopping centers, and provides links to the Northway and Wolf Road shopping.

The Capital District Transportation Committee calls Route 5 “the region’s most important transit corridor, with 15 percent of the region’s households and 30 percent of its jobs located within a half-mile of the roadway.”

The CDTC, which controls federal transportation spending for the region, has backed the development of BusPlus with $16 million in federal funds. Officials there are pleased with the results so far.

“It supports smart growth and is good for economic development,” said David P. Jukins, the committee’s deputy director. “With gas prices rising, it represents an exciting way to save money. And by taking cars off the road, it reduces congestion and improves air quality for everyone.”

Since its inception, BusPlus has provided a faster trip by making only 18 stops between the two cities. The local bus service between Schenectady and Albany makes as many as 90 stops.

But new technology features have kicked in, too, since the service was launched.

The authority in November rolled out queue jumpers, which give buses a head start at three intersections; a traffic signal priority system, which allows a bus to keep a light green for an extra six seconds; and real-time passenger information, which uses GPS technology to estimate when the next buses will be coming. There are message signs at bus stops, or riders can find the information using their smart phones. The buses are also Wi-Fi equipped.

“The queue jumper lanes are at Wolf Road westbound, New Karner Road westbound and Nott Terrace eastbound. There’s a designated bus lane at each intersection; those lanes get a green light before other traffic when a sensor in the pavement detects there’s a bus in the lane.

The traffic signal priority system is installed at 44 intersections. It allows buses to hold a green light for an extra six seconds as they approach it, if they are running behind schedule.

“The queue jumpers and traffic signal priority have really added to the speed of the trip,” Janack said.

Down the road, other improvements are anticipated. Additional security cameras are being installed on buses and in shelters, and Janack said a long-term goal is to have fares paid at a kiosk before riders board the bus, making the boarding process more efficient.

BusPlus runs from 4 a.m. to midnight weekdays, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. The base of operations is the Schenectady CDTA maintenance garage.

A federally funded $500,000 study is currently under way to examine the feasibility of establishing a similar rapid-transit bus route between downtown Albany and the University at Albany/Crossgates Mall area at the western end of the city.

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