August 6, 2008


Study: Expand First Transit bus service

County to decide if buses would run on nights and weekends, if routes should be changed

Staff Reporter

A recently finished draft report recommends revamping the bus routes run by Cortland Transit, improving interagency coordination and beginning some night and weekend service at some point in the future.
Hiring a full-time transportation coordinator is another possibility.
The committee plans to meet Sept. 16 with representatives of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates to determine if the draft report needs more revisions before taking it to the county Legislature for the next step, which could mean applying for grant funding and slowly enacting new measures to improve bus service locally.
The county hired Nelson/Nygaard using a $50,000 federal Transit Administration grant, and the consultants first conducted a study of the existing usage of the bus service before compiling the information and using it do develop several recommendations.
The goal is to increase the usage of the Cortland Transit system, operated by First Transit.
Although First Transit General Manager Paul Dougher said the report contained “good ideas,” the financial feasibility of the options would have to be studied.
In 2006, the actual cost of transit operations was about $939,300, and operating expenses have only increased over the past couple of years. Projections for 2009 costs place the total cost of maintaining existing services at $1.25 million.
The report’s recommendations could add another $327,000 or more to that amount.
In 2002, 141,001 passengers utilized Cortland Transit bus service. Last year, 165,226 passengers used the bus system. Over the last couple of years Cortland Transit has gained an average of 1,500 to 2,000 new riders a month, bringing the total average number of monthly riders to about 12,000.
There are three components to the plan for revamping Cortland Transit — organizing a permanent coordination subcommittee to carry forward efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service, restructuring the existing fixed routes and expanding the level of service over the course of several years, and improving coordination between Cortland Transit and SUNY Cortland campus shuttle services and exploring opportunities over time to consolidate the two systems.
The revised routes would allow for more direct routes, two-way service down main streets, and reduced round-trip times. The expansion of the hours of operation is another option, with weeknight service possibly running until 8 p.m. instead of the current 6 p.m., and weekend services from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. being instituted.
Dougher said someone would have to drive the revised routes in one of the buses to test the practicality of the route before the company would sign off on them.
Routes that look good on paper could be less workable in reality, Dougher said, depending on turn radii and other physical factors. That process would be complete by the Transportation Advisory Committee’s next meeting.
The committee reviewed some important decisions that would have to be made, such as whether to continue to allow the buses to stop when waved down by people walking. The buses only pick up passengers at non-designated stops when it is safe to do so, and the relatively few designated stops could reduce the overall visibility of the system.
Dougher said one of the first things the committee should address is hiring a transportation coordinator to act as a liaison between the government and the bus company, who can work toward improving the system and enacting the other provisions of the report.
Grant funding for the position could be available for the first few years, and the county Legislature would have to approve a grant application.
Passenger revenue for First Transit amounts to about $527,000, said county Planning Department Director Dan Dineen, while state aid to the tune of $300,000 and federal aid totaling about $144,800 provides the remainder of the system’s operating revenue.


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