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January 28, 2010

 

County eyes bus service improvements

Subcommittees will suggest ways to expand First Transit routes, connect to other counties

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County is in the beginning stages of possibly expanding transportation routes in the county and reducing duplication of service.
The Cortland County Transportation Advisory Committee met Monday and formed five subcommittees to examine various ways to improve transportation in the county. The subcommittees will study how to best expand existing routes, how to connect to bus routes in neighboring counties and how to improve the technology to allow for more coordinated service countywide.
The initiatives are all recommendations made by San Francisco-based Nelson Nygaard Consulting, which completed a study of the county’s public transportation system in January 2009.
The firm concluded the county could improve its transportation by decreasing the instances where more than one bus takes trips to the same location. It also stated Cortland County would benefit from enhancing its bus service.
To further this goal, the county will hire a “mobility manager,” someone who will work on coordinating the transportation system countywide.
One of the subcommittees formed Monday will craft this person’s job description and duties, county Planning Department Director Dan Dineen said Wednesday.
Dineen sits on the Transportation Advisory Committee and said that by the next meeting of the committee in March, the subcommittees will be prepared to make suggestions on how to increase the county’s transportation efficiency.
The expenses from these changes will be funded by two state Department of Transportation grants totaling $250,000, which were awarded to Cortland County in the fall of 2009 and are to be used over the next two years.
Seven Valleys Health Coalition Executive Director Jackie Carlton said the grants are designed to enhance transportation opportunities for job seekers as well as seniors and the disabled.
Carlton said much of the money will go toward the technology end of the initiative, such as purchasing computerized dispatch software or GPS systems for the buses.
“There are a lot of different levels of technology you can get ... it can really run the gamut. We can get the subcommittee to better look at what our options are and what best meets the needs of Cortland County and fits within the budget,” Carlton said.
Carlton said the subcommittees are set to meet throughout February and she expects it may take about six months to decide what specific plans to implement.
Carlton said the mobility manager would be hired and overseen by Seven Valleys Health Coalition but would subcontract with the county to do what the Transportation Advisory Committee directs.
Carlton said the annual salary would be approximately $30,000 to $35,000, also to be paid by the grants.
“I think we have the right people at the table and we are working at keeping the communication flowing,” Carlton said.
Cortland Transit’s general manager, Paul Dougher, said he will participate in all the subcommittee meetings to give his input.
Dougher said the grant money can only go so far, so the subcommittees will have to be discerning with what they hope to achieve over the next two years.
But he thinks the membership of the committees, which includes representatives from local organizations such as the county Department of Social Services, the county Area Agency on Aging, Access to Independence and Catholic Charities among others, will help create a feasible plan. The subcommittees’ members were established Monday.
“I would expect to pull all the organizations within the county together and provide a better transportation system for all the residents of the county,” Dougher said.
Dougher said there is an interest in the county to expand the bus routes to Onondaga, Tompkins and Broome counties. He said running more routes may prove to be cost-prohibitive at first.
“We need to take very baby steps and at some point maybe we can achieve most of the goals. Whether they are all attainable or not remains to be seen,” Dougher said.

 

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