One of the keys to smart growth, the subject of a regional conference held in Schenectady by the Congress for the New Urbanism Friday and Saturday, is a good public transit system. And this area has that in the Capital District Transportation Authority and its buses. Good, getting better — and, best of all, getting more use.
The number of riders was 15.6 million last fiscal year, an increase of more than 675,000 from the previous year (when it also increased significantly) and the highest in nearly 30 years.
There have been ridership spikes in the past, usually connected to spikes in gas prices. But gas prices were fairly steady, or even declining, the last couple of years. This increase appears to be fueled by other factors, and therefore has a greater likelihood of lasting.
One is the long-awaited introduction of BusPlus between Schenectady and Albany, featuring new, energy-efficient buses, attractive bus shelters and reduced travel time. Ridership along the Route 5 corridor, which was already the most heavily traveled route in CDTA’s system, increased nearly 30 percent with the new service.
But perhaps the biggest reason is the universal access program, in which CDTA has negotiated deals with area colleges to provide their students unlimited free rides — not just from home to school, but to work, shopping and entertainment. It has such arrangements with nine different schools, including Schenectady County Community College, SUNY Albany, RPI and Skidmore. This has the advantage of saving students money, reducing their carbon footprint and getting more people used to riding the bus.
Smart growth not only relies on good public transit, it facilitates it by putting development along the bus line. That hasn’t always been done in the Capital Region in the past — GlobalFoundries being a perfect example — but important organizations like the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, Capital District Transportation Committee and the Regional Economic Development Council are all calling for it now. Things could get even better for CDTA.