AMSTERDAM — The arrival of CDTA buses in Amsterdam and surrounding Montgomery County in the coming months will immediately improve the quality of life of residents struggling to access basic needs, according to Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a 20-year-old without a car who doesn’t have family support and think about how difficult it is for that person to get to work, to get to the grocery store. Or a senior that may not have the family support that many of us take for granted,” Ossenfort said.
The entire community will benefit from improved mobility, according to Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti, but especially local youth and seniors.
“More mobility means more freedom to make better choices, to be more productive and to enjoy life more,” Cinquanti said.
Local leaders were joined on Monday at the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge by state and federal officials to formally celebrate the expansion of CDTA service into the city and county.
The planned roll out of CDTA bus service in the last week of August follows years of effort by leaders at all levels to bring the transportation authority to the area after Amsterdam eliminated its in-house service amidst a growing deficit in 2018.
“This has become a labor of love for all of us,” said Carm Basile, CEO of CDTA. “To bring connections and mobility to Montgomery County.”
With a groundswell of local support, Basile said securing funding to supply operating assistance was the final hurdle that was finally cleared this year.
The backing of Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, helped secure $4.2 million in the state budget for the service. U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, has supported federal funding to supply vehicles for the new routes and is backing a push to outfit the authority with electric buses.
“For far too long residents have gone without fundamental transportation services,” Basile said. “We will give Montgomery County the opportunity to start a new chapter with a reliable and convenient transit network that will provide success for years to come.”
CDTA unveiled the four preliminary bus routes it will initially roll out to connect dense residential areas, schools, shopping centers, healthcare facilities and workplaces throughout Amsterdam and the immediately surrounding areas.
Bus fare will follow standard CDTA rates, with base local fares set at $1.50. Seniors and individuals with disabilities ride for half fare. Amsterdam High School students will ride free.
“Effective the first day, high school students will be able to ride our buses free of charge,” Basile said. “They will travel to and from school, to and from after school activities, to and from jobs, to and from sporting events and I think become much more productive and part of the community.”
Three intersecting routes running around Amsterdam’s neighborhoods and along the major thoroughfares to make quick connections within the city and nearby Schenectady will operate seven days a week. An express route traveling to Schenectady and Albany will operate five days a week. Final schedules will be released in the coming weeks.
Additional routes extending into the county are expected to be introduced as ridership catches on. Eventually CDTA plans to bring its other services to the area, including bike, e-scooter and car share programs that allow users to borrow independent modes of transportation.
Locals are already excited about the new service, according to Michael Wilson, training coordinator and safety and training supervisor at CDTA, who said residents have shown the authority a warm welcome while officials have test driven the planned bus routes.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, people [say] ‘Oh, we’re so happy you’re coming,’” Wilson said. “I know it’s a big thing for Amsterdam … We’re excited for the city, I’m sure it’s going to be a very successful relationship.”
Wilson plans to hit local roads at least a few more times between now and August to learn the routes before training CDTA drivers to safely navigate city streets in the authority’s 40-foot buses. He isn’t concerned about tight streets, comparing the new routes to existing lines in Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and Troy.
“Our training department does a very good job. We won’t let you come out here if you are not up to the skill levels,” Wilson said.
CDTA is continuing efforts to hire drivers that began earlier this year in anticipation of the expanded services. Around 25 total jobs are expected to be created once bus service is fully rolled out in Montgomery County.
Local officials behind the expansion of CDTA service have been adamant about the needed access to public transportation by residents. The impact that access to bus service will have on the daily lives of community members was evident to Wilson while driving the planned routes.
“People trying to get to stores, seniors that just want to go to the library or wherever they want to go, they had to walk five to 10 blocks,” Wilson said. “People need it because they haven’t been able to get around. There is a huge, huge advantage to them for us to come here.”
Providing residents access to basic needs and expanded opportunities throughout the region by offering public transportation through CDTA will help usher Amsterdam into its next stage of revitalization, according to Cinquanti.
“Amsterdam is positioning itself to become one of the best hometown choices for working families and small businesses,” Cinquanti said. “Don’t let anyone tell you Amsterdam’s best days are behind us.”
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected]ette.net or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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