Montgomery County CDTA bus service gets rolling

A CDTA bus operates on Church Street in Amsterdam on Monday
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A CDTA bus operates on Church Street in Amsterdam on Monday

AMSTERDAM Georgia Giglio, 45, spends nearly $75 a week on cab fare to get to and from her work as a home health aide and an employee at Dunkin’. With new Capital District Transportation Authority bus service starting in Montgomery County, the Amsterdam resident may spend as little as $15 per week on transportation to and from work — CDTA’s base fare is $1.50.

“When there’s really nothing out here but cabs, it’s hard to get around, especially walking with all the hills,” Giglio said this week while waiting for the bus on Main Street in Amsterdam.

Local and CDTA leaders are hoping a lot of riders are as appreciative as Giglio. The transportation agency officially started service in Montgomery County on Sunday. The new bus routes bring to fruition a service that’s been talked about since 2018 after a longtime city-run bus service in Amsterdam went belly up due to low revenue, said Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti.

Montgomery County’s new bus service features four routes — the #600, #601, #602 and the #560. The 600 and 602, which travel around Amsterdam and also connect Amsterdam to Schenectady (602), run seven days a week. The 601, running from south of the Mohawk River to Amsterdam High School, operates during the week and on Saturdays, and The “Thruway Express” (560) runs weekdays to Albany.

The operational budget for the new bus service in Montgomery County is $6,087,587, with state funding specifically covering $4.2 million. The balance comes out of CDTA’s overall budget of more than $100 million. Before service got rolling this week, Amsterdam had been the most populated city in New York not to have a public transportation system.

At this point, it’s far too early to assess the ridership levels in Montgomery County, said Carm Basile, CDTA’s CEO.

“We haven’t established firm targets. We want to get our feet wet first,” Basile said. “It’s way too soon to have the conversation.”

Anecdotally, local leaders say they are hearing positive feedback, with some residents asking questions regarding routes, schedules and parking, and the majority of people expressing gratitude.

“My expectations have been more than met,” said Cinquanti. “I’m super thrilled to have this in the city. I’m thrilled that people have this as an option. It’s exciting for students, exciting for seniors, exciting for people who work in Schenectady or Albany.”

Tyler Jones, 30, stepped off the bus on Main Street carrying armfuls of groceries this week. The general studies student at Fulton-Montgomery Community College said he used to spend $10 to $12 getting a cab to go to the grocery store. He said he’s glad to have the bus as an option for running errands.

“It’ll just make it easier to do things — to do your grocery shopping, or if you’re stopping at Spectrum if you have a problem with your router or something,” Jones said.

CDTA will spend the next several months crunching ridership numbers and other data to determine what changes to services, if any, should be made, Basile said. Tweaks could be as simple as having a bus turn left instead of right at any given location. For now, the goal is promoting the new service, Basile said.

“It’s going to take awhile to build ridership. This is not a three-month exercise. This is a couple-year exercise just to build ridership. It takes people a long time to change their travel habits,” Basile said. “This is a process.”

As early as next summer, CDTA’s CDPHP Cycle! program could be operational in Amsterdam, Basile said. Other offerings, such as scooters and an electric car share, could be part of the city’s future, as well.

“Everything that we have in our arsenal eventually will make its way into Montgomery County,” Basile said.

Leaders are hopeful the bus service can be an economic boon to a region that would welcome a lift.

“It makes us more mobile,” Cinquanti said. “It gives people more of a way to get to our city and gives our residents the ability to get anywhere they need to go. It connects us like we’ve never been connected before and provides a direct link for our residents to get to other areas of the Capital District.”

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who helped lead the charge to secure funding in the state budget, said success of the bus service will ultimately come down to the people who ride.

“In the weeks, months and years to come, the success will be measured in personal stories,” Santabarbara said. “[Maybe it’s] ‘Hey, I took that job I wanted. I’ve been wanting to take that job forever, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it because I didn’t have a car and didn’t have a reliable way to get there.’”

For now, Giglio, the home health aide and Dunkin’ worker, is happy to have the bus service. She said she could walk to work, but it’d take about 45 minutes.

“And it’s all uphill.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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