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Schenectady Police Officer Weekes looks to launch bus service

Schenectady Police Officer Weekes looks to launch bus service

Venture is expected to begin in January
Schenectady Police Officer Weekes looks to launch bus service
Mark Weekes, owner and operator of Fare, LLC with his transportation bus in front of the Schenectady Station
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY -- City residents will be able to ride a bus to New York City for just $20 in 2019.

Mark Weekes said he plans to provide daily bus service to and from the city, and he has plans to add a shuttle bus that will transport residents to destinations within the city. The latter service will also be available to students in need of rides to school or after-school programs.

The name of the new transportation service is Venture America.

Weekes, a Schenectady Police officer, said he had been contemplating the bus service even before he started Fare, a five-car service for area residents in need of rides to non-emergency medical appointments.

He developed the bus service plan after he went on voluntary unpaid leave from the police department. The time away was spurred by an investigation into the death of Andrew Kearse, who died while in police custody in May 2017. Weekes was the officer who drove Kearse to the police department the day of his death. He was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury in October.

Also Sunday: Schenectady police officer breaks silence on in-custody death of Andrew Kearse, Dec. 30, 2018

During his time off, Weekes said he also figured out a way to give back to the community through his new business: He will provide free rides for students and make $5 ride discount coupons readily available in the community.

“It will be hard for you not to get your hands on a coupon,” Weekes said.

The free and discounted rides, Weekes said, are his way of thanking a community that has supported him -- not just during the Kearse probe, but also after he was violently assaulted in August 2015. That attack left him with a skull fracture, a brain bleed and a broken finger.

“The community always backed me up through the assault and the [Kearse] incident,” Weekes said. “I always felt like I had the backup of the community. This is a way to give back to them.”

Weekes said that, at first, there will only be one bus making curbside pickups for residents traveling to New York City. The bus carries 20 passengers and will charge $20 for a one-way ticket. If there are more than 20 people at the curbside stop, Weekes said, Venture America will find arrangements with one of the charter companies he works with to get another vehicle to transport them.

If business starts to pick up, another bus will be added, he said.

Weekes also said he plans to transport students from various community colleges in the region to New York City, though at a slightly higher rate.

He said the service would be available to students from Herkimer County Community College for $50, to students from SUNY Schenectady County Community College for $25, and to Fulton-Montgomery Community College students for $30.

Weekes said the trips would mainly be available to students for holiday and other scheduled school breaks. If there is enough demand, Weekes said he would expand the service to weekends as well.

The pickup spots in both Schenectady and New York City have yet to be figured out, Weekes said. Those looking to ride from New York back to Schenectady may have to call ahead, at first, Weekes said.

“Because, for the beginning, if there is no one riding that day, we’re not sending [the bus] down,” Weekes said.

But even if there is just one person in need of transport, Weekes said he would send a bus to New York, even if it isn’t profitable.

“I’m willing to take a loss,” he said. “That’s the part where giving back comes in.”

Tickets for the trips will be available for purchase online, Weekes said. But he is also looking to partner with local convenience stores to sell the tickets. Weekes said if he can do that, along with curbside pickups, it would eliminate the need for a bus terminal.

“Then, we don’t have to worry about raising ticket prices,” he said.

Weekes also plans to provide what he referred to as an “urban shuttle service” for residents to different locations in the city, for a flat rate of $5.

It would be an alternative to other ride-sharing services and to public transportation provided by Capital District Transportation Authority.

It’s a service that’s meant for people who don’t have credit cards, smartphones or the means to pay for other transportation.

“It’s so everyone has a ride for where they need to go,” Weekes said.

The shuttle would run every hour, though times for the first and last shuttles of the day have not been determined, Weekes said.

Passengers won’t have to go to a bus stop to use the service, Weekes said. This bus will actually pick you up where you live and drop you off wherever you’re going, as long it's within the city limits.

Weekes also plans to have a program set up where each paid bus ride taken by a resident will enable a free ride for a student to school or an after-school program. It’s a program he calls Venture to School.

Also Sunday: Schenectady police officer breaks silence on in-custody death of Andrew Kearse, Dec. 30, 2018

Weekes said he’s already planning to donate 100 to 200 rides to students.

The hope for Weekes is to start the urban shuttle service during the first two weeks of January. He hopes to start making trips to New York at the end of January or the first week of February. Weekes said he just needs to get certifications from DOT.

Weekes doesn’t expect his new business venture to interfere with his police work, as he plans to return to the force shortly. That’s because his other business, Fare, already has staff in place, and Venture America will just be an additional service.

If anything, Weekes thinks still being a police officer will help his business.

“It will be one of a few businesses that is, I guess, really community-based,” he said.

Tickets will be able to be purchased at venture-america.com

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