The country miles that separate points in rural areas of the state can take a long time to traverse.
For many people in Northern New York, this means that public transportation is essential. They rely upon it to get to work, do their shopping, keep medical appointments, attend school and visit loved ones.
But some regions are underserved. This leaves many residents with fewer options to travel from one destination to another.
The good news is that the Metropolitan Planning Organization has presented a vision for making such services more accessible in the near future. The group consists of representatives from the city of Watertown, Jefferson County and state Department of Transportation. It recently released its Watertown-Jefferson County Area Transportation Council Transit Study, which has been in the works for more than two years.
The plan calls for expanding bus service to the BOCES Technical Center and the Target store on outer Arsenal Street, adding routes to Fort Drum and Calcium, creating more routes throughout Jefferson County and connecting with the public transit systems in Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. These goals should be accomplished over the next decade.
“Under the MPO plan, the bus system would be expanded from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to offer riders service to and from work. It now runs from 7 a.m. to 6:35 p.m.,” according to a Watertown Daily Times story published Jan. 27. “The 92-page transportation study also recommends a year-round expansion into Adams, Carthage/Black River and the Watertown International Airport in Dexter in the first phase of the plan. Under the second phase, it would add another route to the commercial area near Fort Drum and connect the system to Lewis County into Lowville and to Gouverneur in St. Lawrence County. Seasonal routes to Clayton and Sackets Harbor for the summer tourist season could be included later.
“Currently, CitiBus consists of five bus systems that loop in different areas of the city. Seven full-time drivers and a mechanic are employed by the system,” the article reported. “At the same time the MPO plan was approved, the city also is about to embark on its own new plan for CitiBus by hiring a mobility manager who would work on filling the gaps needed for the system. Plans call for the city to contract with the Volunteer Transportation Center to manage the bus system as an outside contractor to develop routes, decide how to get the service to people who need it and to seek state and federal funding. The city will continue to run CitiBus on a day-to-day basis.”
Sam Purington, executive director of the VTC, has for the past decade encouraged Watertown to adopt the mobility manager concept. This model has been successful in other areas of the north country.
Frank Doldo serves as the VTC’s mobility manager in St. Lawrence County. Ridership there has increased 885 trips in 2018 to 4,800 last year.
“Mobility management is an approach to designing and delivering transportation services that starts and ends with the customer,” according to the website for the National Center for Mobility Management. “It begins with a community vision in which the entire transportation network — public transit, private operators, cycling and walking, volunteer drivers and others — works together with customers, planners and stakeholders to deliver the transportation options that best meet the community’s needs.”
This long-range vision bodes well for Watertown surrounding communities and Northern New York as a whole. We commend the work of the MPO and urge transportation planners to carry out its objectives.