Brookings Institution transit study

May 12, 2011

The Times-Union recently ran a column about a Brookings Institution study that concluded, in terms of percentage of residents who could reach their jobs by public transit, Albany wasn’t so bad.  The report shows how in this country we have totally capitulated to an automobile-centered way of life.  When a transit authority can be a national leader because 10.9% of its residents can reach their jobs by transit in 45 minutes of less, it’s really a way of saying transit is a marginal component of our area’s (and of the nation’s) transportation infrastructure.  The 45 minute trip may be reasonable in a huge metro area with suburban and exurban rail commuters, but it’s not in an area like Albany, and the 10.9% of jobs able to be reached is not reasonable for any area.

It’s not all or even mostly CDTA’s fault.  Suburban sprawl encouraging zoning and other government land use and home-financing policies are the primary culprit; the starving of funding for transit is another, as is our national love affair with the automobile, at least until the relationship goes sour because of $4.00 per gallon gasoline.

In the TU story, Carm Basile, CDTA’s head honcho, candidly admitted that CDTAs service frequency is not what it should be.  The Brookings report noted that transit service to lower paying jobs, often not located in central cities, is usually not as good as service to higher paying central city jobs.  In this area, there’s one easy fix for this problem — frequent, direct airport to downtown service via Wolf Road and Central Avenue.  There are a lot of jobs on Wolf Road in hotels and restaurants.  Transit service to those jobs could open them up to more urban residents.  By including the airport on the route, CDTA would tap into a potential market of hundreds of people a day entering the region without automobiles.  With some good marketing, it seems to me CDTA could capture a small but meaningful percentage of those people – many of whom are coming in for a day or two on business and do not have a lot of luggage.  The increased revenue provided could be used to buck up the frequency of service for everyone.  The same could be said for CDTA service to the rail station, which is “served” by the 214 bus that skirts its perimeter, but where such substandard service recently was cut almost in half by the re-routing of the 22 bus that also passed the station before the re-route.

I haven’t yet tried Bus Plus, and I wish it success, but it seems to me that a lot of the money spent on fancy bus stops might better have been spent on making more frequent service available on that and other routes.

Transit in Albany will never be the almost universal option that it is for residents of Boston, New York and other major metropolitan areas.  However, I’d like to see it become a viable option for folks other than those who now use it to commute from the suburbs to downtown Albany and, to a lesser extent, Troy and Schenectady, especially for those “reverse commuters” for whom it could open up the greater employment opportunities in the suburbs.