AMSTERDAM — What might be a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up necessities for some people can be an all-day task for families in the city who lack access to public transportation, according to John Sumpter, director of youth outreach at Creative Connections Clubhouse.
“I think it is very important to bring the city bus back to Amsterdam. We have a lot of families out here that need it,” Sumpter said.
Sumpter joined over a dozen community members and local officials outside of Creative Connections on East Main Street on Wednesday imploring state and federal officials to approve plans that would extend CDTA services to the city and Montgomery County.
The city previously operated its own bus service that was discontinued in 2018 when the deficit for providing the public transportation had ballooned to $1 million with no signs the city would be able to turn it around to become profitable.
“Amsterdam could not and can not at this time afford to maintain our own public transportation system,” Mayor Michael Cinquanti said.
Yet, Cinquanti described access to public transportation as a “dire need” for residents and area businesses.
“Amsterdam is the largest city in New York state that does not have public bus service. That void is an obstacle to development and overall quality of life that we must not allow to continue,” Cinquanti said.
A regional transportation system is necessary to successfully provide public transportation to the city, Cinquanti argued.
“If a transportation system that served our city also provided us with regular connections to the entire region of communities it would permit folks who live here to affordably get to places they cannot go and at the same time provide the employers and businesses in and around our city with access to a larger employee recruiting pool and market for their goods and services,” he said.
CDTA has studied the area and developed plans to offer a route servicing the dense residential areas and employment centers in the city and Montgomery County. The route would also connect to Schenectady and provide easy access to transfer options to Albany.
While bus fares cover a portion of the cost of providing the service, CDTA bus routes are heavily supported by federal funds funneled through the state.
“It’s a subsidy that they spend on Albany, Troy, Schenectady,” Cinquanti said. “What about Amsterdam?”
Local officials have been gathering support for bringing CDTA services to the city and Montgomery County in recent weeks to demonstrate to state and federal officials the route is needed and desired.
The city has already collected 14 letters of support from organizations and agencies, including CDTA, Greater Amsterdam School District (GASD), Montgomery County Department of Social Services, St. Mary’s Healthcare, Montgomery County Office for Aging, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Liberty ARC, Centro Civico, DePaul, Alpin Haus, Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, Creative Connections and Horace J. Inman Senior Center.
Creative Connections Director Alyssa Craig said access to public transportation would have a huge impact on the ability of the roughly 500 at-risk young people age 12 to 21 who attend programs and services at the clubhouse throughout each year.
“It would be a huge benefit to our youth, it’s one of the members’ biggest struggles,” Craig said.
Craig estimated 95% of the kids attending programs walk to Creative Connections due to a lack of transportation, typically traveling a mile or more by foot. The clubhouse provides youths access to help with homework, tutoring, life skills, team building and recreational activities.
“These programs are highly beneficial for our kids from being able to help them with their schoolwork to getting passing grades and encouraging them to go to school on a daily basis, but also just the life skills of learning how to do laundry and cook in a kitchen to make a healthy meal,” Craig said.
Access to transportation would also provide local kids access to new experiences and expanded opportunities, Craig said.
Kids attending summer programs at Creative Connections joined the group urging officials to bring CDTA service to their community, carrying homemade signs bearing such slogans as, “We need a ride to get to our future.”
GASD Superintendent Richard Ruberti agrees, which is why the school district is planning to devote up to $1 million of its approximately $3.6 million annual transportation costs toward providing Amsterdam High School students free access to bus services if the CDTA route is established.
In addition to stops at central points in the city and Montgomery County, the proposed bus route would stop at the high school in the morning and every 15 minutes after school to provide students easy access to transportation home from programs and extracurricular activities.
“We see students walking all the time and in Amsterdam students use cabs a lot. There is no public transportation, so if their parents don’t have a car, a cab can cost $10 or $12 for a ride and students have to wait for it,” Ruberti said. “I think [CDTA] would be a really great improved option for them and it would be free for them.”
The school district is currently only planning to extend free CDTA ridership to high school students for whom Ruberti said it would be age appropriate to ride on buses with the general public without parental supervision. GASD will continue to operate school bus routes for elementary and middle school students.
The planned contribution from the school district would be the only direct fee to CDTA from the region if the route is established. There would be no direct cost to the city or Montgomery County.
However, a portion of the mortgage taxes collected by Montgomery County would be required to be used to subsidize the bus service annually if the route is established. Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort has stated the county is committed to making the CDTA route possible.
“It’s important to the children riding the bus to school, it’s important for to the parents that are going to work, it’s important to the industries in our county to get more employees that can’t afford to drive or don’t have vehicles,” said Robert Purtell, Montgomery County District 9 legislator.
The push also has the backing of U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who is supporting a $6 million federal funding request that would enable CDTA to purchase eight electric vehicles for use in emerging markets, including the new route proposed locally.
Funding for the electric buses was included in the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act that is aimed at investing in the country’s highways, roads, bridges, transit, rail and water infrastructure was approved by the House on July 1 and is now headed to the Senate.
“CDTA wants it, our legislators want it, I think everybody wants it,” Cinquanti said. “I think it’s just a matter of pushing it over the finish line and now is the time. And pretty soon I hope to see these buses rolling through the city.”