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Capital Region News

Proposal: Free Bus Rides During Snow Emergencies

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The Northeast has been digging out from two snowstorms in the past week, making the morning commute dicey. So, should the Capital District Transportation Authority offer free rides on snowy days? WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports some Albany residents say yes.

Winter weather can result in difficult travel conditions. There's been an idea floating around that when snow emergencies are declared in areas served by CDTA, the authority's buses should open their doors to all, "fare-free."

Bruce Roter, a professor of music at Albany's College of St. Rose, rides the bus frequently and has been leading a call to roll out the plan.  "It just seemed to make so much sense to me that during a snow emergency that CDTA allow for fareless ridership. I thought that that would remove more cars from the road, creating greater safety and allowing the plows to get through better. And it might also create a more loyal ridership."

Albany Common Council member Leah Golby, a rider and supporter of public transportation, is keen on Roter's idea.   "First of all, it can encourage people not to drive, which we want. We don't want people out driving when it's hazardous out there. But sometimes you still need to get places, and we're really fortunate that we have a really good public transportation system that of course, may be impacted by the weather, just like anybody else, but the drivers are professional and safe. It would really be a goodwill gesture for the community if CDTA were to be able to provide this service."

CDTA's director of marketing Jon Scherzer:   "Certainly we've spoken to Bruce about it. I think, from our perspective, the ability for people to go out on the road, we don't wanna promote that if the state and government are telling people not to go out there. But at the same time we're certainly not gonna leave anyone out there so, for the amount of travelers that are out in a snowstorm and snow emergencies are usually a lot less than you normally see, so, people aren't gonna get passed up, but I don't think promoting the idea of traveling when it's kind of against the best interest of the community — those are two different things. So for us, it's 'leave no person behind,' but at the same time we wanna follow what the authorities are telling them to do about just staying home and not getting out."

Nevertheless, Roter hopes municipalities might partner to help fund the service. He envisions "sponsored rides."  "There's plenty of room for signs on a bus saying that 'this fareless ride during this storm was brought to you by such-and-such a company.' I think that would be a good promotion and beneficial to everybody."

Golby thinks fare-free winter rides could give people who normally drive a taste of what it's like to ride the bus.   "... and could bring in new riders, even when the weather's not bad. It really is something to think about."

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