The municipal bus service that connects the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville, among other Fulton County municipalities, has experienced a healthy, 20 percent spike in ridership the past two years. That’s impressive in the face of falling gas and a weak economy, but not impressive enough for the service — which relies heavily on state and federal aid, as well as fare box revenue — to break even.
Gloversville, which operates the service, has been absorbing the lion’s share of a $121,000 shortfall — roughly $83,000. But given its relatively weak financial condition compared to Johnstown’s, it has asked its sister city to raise its annual subsidy, historically $38,100, to $44,000 this year and $50,000 in 2011. Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland has balked, saying she’d rather have one-third fewer buses come into her city every day than spend more money to keep the service as it is. Given the popularity of the service, and the relatively small amount of money involved, her position seems shortsighted.
Of the system’s 108,000 riders last year, Gloversville officials say about 40,000 — 37 percent — went in or out of Johnstown. So it doesn’t seem very fair that Johnstown, which is in relatively decent financial shape, pays only $38,000, while Gloversville has to pay $83,000.
The bus service is important not just to the two cities, but to all of Fulton County; thus a case could be made for the county to cover the shortfall, which doesn’t seem very large considering how valuable the service is. But if the 13 buses daily to and from Johnstown were suddenly reduced to just nine or 10, as Slingerland suggests, it’s hard to imagine that the economic impact on the city’s Route 30A commercial corridor wouldn’t exceed the measly $6,000 Gloversville Mayor Dayton King has asked Slingerland for. And if King follows through on his threat to re-route the buses so they no longer go past that shopping area, the loss to the Johnstown merchants — and the city — will be even greater.
Admittedly, there’s been some friction between the two municipalities over the Gloversville Walmart Supercenter project, which Johnstown wasn’t too keen on; but allowing it to continue won’t benefit either city. Johnstown’s budget may already be set for the current year, but it’s hard to believe that if Slingerland wanted to find $6,000, she couldn’t do so without creating hardship elsewhere. But she’ll certainly create $6,000 worth of hardship if bus service to her city is suddenly reduced by one-third.