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Need a ride? Here’s what the county offers now

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By DEBORAH E. LANS

HUDSON—Could you live in Columbia County without a car? What transportation services are available? Who uses them? What else is needed?

Following on an extensive Transportation Planning Analysis issued in draft form by the County Transportation Planning Task Force in February, 2023, and updated and issued for public comment in August, the Board of Supervisors is now scheduling hearings to address those very questions.

The issues go to the heart of life in the county for the 7% of households that have no vehicle and the many others who need transportation help from time to time.

As Transportation Planning Committee Chair Supervisor Michael Chameides (Hudson Ward 3) puts it, “Transportation is essential to life in the county. When it’s unavailable, the effects can snowball. Medical appointments are missed. Job opportunities are limited, as some jobs are simply beyond the reach of some residents. Shopping is a challenge. Socializing is difficult. The entire quality of life is affected.”

Most of the county is inaccessible by public transportation. The county runs five bus routes. Overall, between ticket revenues and federal and state grants, the service often makes money for the county and, in years when it has not, the cause is usually the county’s failure to apply timely for, and receive, federal revenues.

In 2022, after accounting for expenses as well as federal, state and fare revenue, the service actually netted a $111,200 profit for the county.

One of the current routes is an Albany loop that largely services workers. It runs four times/day during the week, each loop lasting 90 minutes, as it winds through Hudson, Greenport, Stottville, Kinderhook, Valatie, and on to Schodack and Albany. The route had nearly 7,900 riders in 2022.

Another route—the most popular—provided 21,663 rides in 2022 and is on track for a higher number this year. It serves the Greenport shopping areas from Hudson seven times each day, six days/week. With hours recently extended to 8 p.m. and the cost per ride a modest $1, the route is seeing increasing ridership as employed riders can now use the shuttle after work.

The other routes run just once/week each, as a kind of group field day and link Claverack and Greenport; Claverack, Germantown, Greenport, Stottville and Stuyvesant; and, Philmont, Ancramdale, Copake and Greenport.

There is currently no service to state Route 66, where there are jobs seeking workers. The larger towns and villages, like Chatham, Kinderhook and New Lebanon where there are employment opportunities, likewise lack any public transit service.

According to Mr. Chameides, the county could easily double its mass transportation budget (about $176,000 in 2023) without having a meaningful effect on the overall county budget (about $163 million in 2023). In other words, the mass transit budget is one-tenth of one percent of the overall county budget.

One of the challenges facing the county is that no one county employee is tasked with transportation or mobility planning, so sometimes deadlines to apply for federal or state funding are missed, and planning is short-range only, as immediate transportation tasks are parceled among a number of already overworked staff. Long-term planning is not staffed. In contrast, Greene County employs a mobility manager and has a far more robust transportation system.

Currently, the primary public transportation users are those over age 60. Since that segment of the county’s population is increasing, so too will the need.

The county’s immediate and long-term needs, and the potential means of meeting them, will be explored at the upcoming hearings. (The dates have not yet been set.)

As the Transportation Planning Analysis showed, many needs are currently met (at least in part) by private providers. Overall, according to the analysis, “these agencies utilize over 100 vehicles and more than 50 full-time and part-time staff to deliver more than 40,000 trips per year. . . more rides to residents than the county’s public transportation system.” These services are all stretched beyond capacity.

One of the largest agencies, and one which serves anyone in need of non-emergency medical transport, is the non-profit Healthcare Consortium. Consortium Executive Director Claire Parde says, its Children and Adults Rural Transportation Service (C.A.R.T.S.) will likely deliver more than 250,000 miles of door-to-door, non-emergency medical transportation services in 2023. While most trips are in-county, transport is also provided—always free of charge to the riders—to Albany, Troy, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Pittsfield, Great Barrington and Sharon.

The Consortium services are funded in part by Medicaid, in part by the county, and in part by private donations. The vast majority (in 2022, 91%) of trips were provided to those over 60, many of whom are traveling for chemotherapy or dialysis services which leave them unable to drive themselves.

The C.A.R.T.S. drivers—many of whom are retired law enforcement and fire officers and all of whom are “civic-minded guys,” according to Ms. Parde—are known for kindness and over-the-top assistance to passengers, so much so that they will be celebrated at a special ceremony on September 21.

Other significant providers are the county Office for the Aging, which offers non-medical transportation services; Coarc, which services those with developmental disabilities by transporting them to and from its rehabilitation facilities in Mellenville, Hudson and Valatie and to employment; the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties, Inc. which provides transport to clinical and lifestyle supports (non-emergency medical services, food shopping, community programs); and Twin County Recovery Services.

These larger providers receive county financial and in-kind support and state and federal aid and reimbursement, which, in 2022 was:

PROVIDER COUNTY SUPPORT STATE/FEDERAL AID REIMBURSEMENT
COARC $931,356.26, $450,032.00
HEALTHCARE CONSORTIUM $587,917.38, $355,554.50
MENTAL HEALTH ASS’N $2,327,207.70, $1,959,491.32
TWIN COUNTY RECOVERY $907,712.31, $670,145.79
Source: Columbia County Transportation Planning Analysis

Like many other issues facing the county, transportation is not only a local concern. As Pattern for Progress wrote in its October 2019 “Out of Alignment” report, “The state of transit in the Mid-Hudson Valley requires the integration of many disparate transit systems. Fragmentation of existing service providers and the lack of a single regional planning and policy entity contributes to the inability for the region’s workforce to easily commute to employment centers.”

Given that the affordable housing situation is driving many of the workers who could service open positions to live outside Columbia County, the need for both a central local and a regional planning approach is evident.

Finally, the importance of public transportation to the decarbonization of the area should not be overlooked. As the federal Environmental Protection Agency has found, transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for about 30%. Buses are an obvious, and often overlooked, part of the solution.

Data from the U.S. Department of Defense shows that on average gas-powered cars emit about one pound of carbon dioxide per passenger mile. A bus running at 25% of capacity emits two thirds of that amount per passenger mile. If a bus were full, it would emit only .18 pounds of CO2 per passenger mile; as such, bus travel would be comparable in GHG emissions to rail travel, but at a lower cost.

Electrified vehicles emit even less GHG. Mr. Chameides says that electrification of the county’s bus fleet is a longer-term goal. The county currently lacks the infrastructure to support an electric fleet, such as charging stations, which for buses are expensive and large.

Increasing ridership of the existing fleet is a more immediate goal and climate solution. Further work toward that end has included enhancing the public awareness of the available, and expanded, services, through published route maps and timetables.

The website, columbiacountyny.com/public-transportation.html, contains the route, timetable and other service information for the county’s system. Information is also available at 518-672-4901. Non-emergency medical trips with the Healthcare Consortium can be scheduled at 518-822-8020.

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