My car is pretty unreliable.
It’s a 2000 Ford Focus wagon, and recently I had $900 worth of work done to fix the timing belt, water pump and a rusted-through coolant pipe. I realize that’s a lot of money to put into a car that old, but it’s cheaper than purchasing a new car.
As an experiment (in case my car breaks down again), I rode the Capital District Transportation Authority’s new BusPlus service from Albany to Schenectady on Thursday.
My first problem was I live on Park Avenue. To get to the closest BusPlus “station,” called “Lark,” outside of the Armory, I would either have to walk, ride another bus or get a ride.
I’m all for a nice walk in the morning, but I was running late, so my boyfriend dropped me off on his way to work.
The new red and silver, diesel-electric hybrid bus pulled up exactly when it should at 8:36 a.m. Buses are supposed to operate every 15 minutes during peak morning and afternoon hours.
I chose to do my experiment this week because from April 4-18, the service is free. So not only did I save on gas, but I didn’t have to pay the $2 BusPlus fare. (The fee is $1.50 for those with a CDTA Swiper Card.)
On the service’s fourth day, the inside of the bus was still shiny and clean. I sat in one of the sideways-facing seats in the front to be able to see out of the windshield and talk with other riders.
As far as other riders go, there weren’t many.
There were about seven to 10 people on the bus the whole trip, and most of the people getting on had told the driver they were only riding because it was still free.
At one point I did hear the driver tell a CDTA official waiting at one station that routes earlier in the morning are the busiest.
Reviews from riders were mixed.
One woman who worked the night shift at either a hospital or nursing home (she was wearing printed pastel scrubs) said she loved the new buses but she didn’t find the new route to be faster.
“Why should I pay more when I’m on the bus the same amount of time?” she said.
The BusPlus service is supposed to be faster. The number of stops along the 17-mile route went down from 90 on a regular bus run to 18 on BusPlus.
Another man, Sean Pasillico, who got on at the North Manning station and was on his way to work in Glenville, said the length of his ride was the same. However, he was willing to pay.
“It’s cheaper than owning a car with gas prices the way they are,” he said. Pasillico also liked that the new buses weren’t as crowded.
There are some drawbacks to having fewer stops.
As with my own dilemma in the morning, Pasillico said once he got off at the Liberty Park station, he would then have to walk or catch another bus to Glenville. He called it “frustrating” at times but said the new BusPlus service is still better for him because he doesn’t have to worry about the expenses of owning a car.
My total trip from the Lark station in Albany to the Downtown/Train Station stop in Schenectady took 50 minutes.
I was assured by other people on the new bus that the regular bus service would have taken the same amount of time.
I was disappointed that I didn’t see the bus driver use the new “queue jumpers” or traffic signal technology at intersections, but CDTA spokeswoman Margo Janack explained later that the technology wouldn’t be installed until the end of the year.
The State Street-Central Avenue route was chosen because it’s considered the region’s busiest traffic corridor, with nearly 3.5 million riders annually. About 70 percent of them use the service to get to work, according to the CDTA.
The new service has been in the works for nearly 10 years, and CDTA has already spent $16.5 million in federal funds on the buses, stations and new technology. The entire project is estimated at $36 million. The authority continues to seek $20 million for additional capital improvements, including a dedicated bus lane on State Street in Schenectady, additional station upgrades and more buses.
The Albany-Schenectady service represents only 17 miles of a 100-mile “vision,” according to CEO Carm Basile. BusPlus routes along Washington and Western avenues in Albany are in the planning stages, as well as a route from Albany to Troy.
As for how to get from downtown to the Gazette’s offices on Maxon Road Extension, it was a snap. Gazette photographer Marc Schultz was waiting for me and gave me a lift.
It was a problem-free commute for me, but I’m still hoping my car doesn’t break down again.