The Capital District Transportation Authority could surpass 15 million passengers and set a new ridership record this year, thanks to higher gasoline prices and what authority officials say are improvements to their bus service.
“Our ridership has gone up for 18 straight months,” said CDTA spokeswoman Margo Janack. “There’s a lot of things in the mix, but I’m sure gasoline is one of them.”
The April 2011 launch of Bus Plus service — an upgraded express service — on the busy Central Avenue corridor is another factor, she said, and so is the ongoing restructuring of routes currently under way in Albany County, which has more ridership than any other county.
For the month of September, total bus ridership was 1,414,672, up 5 percent from a year earlier. For the first six months of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, ridership was nearly 7.2 million, which Janack said is up 6 percent from the year before.
The upward trend means CDTA could top 15 million riders for the fiscal year that ends next April — possibly matching or even exceeding the ridership record set in 2008, when high gas prices also contributed. A 50-cent basic fare increase in April 2009 led to a 10 percent ridership drop the following year, and ridership didn’t start to rebound until 2011.
In early September, gasoline prices in the Albany area hit $4 per gallon for the first time since 2008, and fuel prices since then have stayed close to that benchmark, a factor national mass transit advocates say is encouraging more people to switch to taking the bus.
“Gasoline always brings people back to looking at affordable transportation options,” Janack said.
The Bus Plus launch has contributed to a roughly 15 percent ridership increase along Central Avenue between Schenectady and Albany, she said, adding that route restructurings have also been a factor in getting more people on the bus.
“We are putting service where people will use it,” Janack said.
The latest phase in the restructuring — more or less the end of a five-year process involving routes in all four counties served by CDTA — will go into effect Sunday, Nov. 11.
The latest restructuring will affect more than a dozen routes in the northern and western parts of Albany County, mostly outside the city of Albany, where routes were restructured earlier.
One new route, the No. 155 “Suburban Circulator,” will travel roads between Crossgates Mall and Albany International Airport, connecting to other CDTA bus routes and increasing service in the Wolf Road area.
The new No. 719 route will link Altamont and Voorheesville with downtown Albany, traveling through Delmar and running during peak commuter times.
Another change is the new No. 522 “Hudson River Express” route that will travel between Cohoes and downtown Albany, also swinging into downtown Troy.
The new restructuring effort follows an Albany city restructuring that took place a year ago, and earlier restructurings that changed service routes in Schenectady and Saratoga counties.
There were several public meetings about the restructuring earlier this year, and Janack said the new routes accommodate about 80 percent of what people asked for. “A lot of what people asked for was more night and weekend service,” she said.
Under the changes, there will be more late-night and additional weekend services in Cohoes, Latham and Watervliet, and between Troy and Schenectady on routes 2 and 7.
At the same time, parts of five routes in Cohoes, Latham, Loudonville, Albany and Guilderland are being eliminated due to low ridership, and five others are seeing their service reduced or relocated.
Albany County accounts for about 60 percent of CDTA’s total ridership, officials said.
Information on the changes is available at www.cdta.org or by calling the CDTA’s customer information line at 482-8822.