CAPITAL REGION — In its first few weeks of operation, the Electric City Trolley has carried hundreds of people between downtown Schenectady and the city's newest attraction, Rivers Casino & Resort.
The average of 10 to 15 riders per hour is enough to please officials at the Capital District Transportation Authority, which has now launched three free downtown shuttle bus services: one each in Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and Albany.
"The service is doing really well. We're seeing decent ridership, especially on Friday and Saturday nights," CDTA spokeswoman Jaime Watson said.
The Schenectady trolley — really a small bus designed to resemble a historic street trolley — launched June 22 and provides service from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The public rides for free, with the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority organizing businesses and other partners to underwrite the roughly $125,000 annual cost.
Watson said the service, which uses two shuttles that make a loop roughly every 20 minutes, is expected to see ridership grow. Unlike the Albany and Saratoga shuttles, the Schenectady service is expected to be year-round, since both the casino and downtown venues like Proctors operate throughout the year.
"As we continue to promote and talk about it, we expect the numbers to grow," Watson said.
The trolley is running between State Street downtown and the casino, roughly a mile away at Mohawk Harbor on Erie Boulevard. It is also stopping at the soon-to-be-rebuilt Amtrak station on lower Union Street, in Little Italy, and at some of the city's hotels.
The seasonal Saratoga Springs shuttle, meanwhile, started July 2 and has carried as many as 100 people per day. But that service really ramps up starting July 21, when Saratoga Race Course opens and attracts thousands of people daily to the Spa City.
"Once we start serving the tracks, there were times (last year) when we were serving 500 people (in a day)," Watson said.
CDTA has provided a seasonal shuttle service in Saratoga Springs for years but made it free for the first time in 2016, underwriting the service itself. It runs seven days a week from early July through Labor Day, operating from 11 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. daily. In addition to stopping at the thoroughbred track and downtown, it stops at the Saratoga Casino Hotel.
A third free shuttle service, operating in and around downtown Albany, launched for the first time in May but is expected to be seasonal, shutting down for the winter.
Watson said CDTA officials decided to offer the services without cost to riders as a courtesy, and a way of exposing people who may not be transit bus riders to the services CDTA has to offer. It also reduces traffic congestion, she noted.
"There's a safety component to it, too, combating drinking and driving," she said. "People can go out and have a good time and not have to worry about it ... or they don't want to deal with parking and that sort of thing. They can leave the driving to us."
A number of transit authorities around the country provide similar services in their urban areas, according to the American Public Transit Association.
Schenectady-based transportation logistics software company Transfinder offers an app that lets prospective riders see where the trolley is and how long they will probably have to wait.