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One Capital Region lawmaker wants to continue a COVID change: free bus fare

 A CDTA bus travels through Albany streets on March 4, 2022.
Dave Lucas
/
WAMC
A CDTA bus travels along Albany's Quail Street on March 4, 2022.

An Albany County Legislator is continuing his push to make bus rides free in the Capital Region.

About a year ago, Democratic Legislator Sam Fein of the sixth district introduced a proclamation calling for the Capital District Transportation Authority to conduct a study on implementing fare-free transit for all bus routes.

CDTA's fleet went "fare-free" for several months during the beginning of the pandemic, a move that sparked Fein's interest in the issue. He says several major U.S. cities already have free buses running.

"Like L.A., Boston, which has a pilot program, but you know, I've been in talks with Carm Basile, the CEO of the CDTA," Fein said. "And, you know, we're trying to look at how we can expand free access to more people, make the system more equitable. My goal is to have an entirely free system, free at the point of uses. But we're right now we're looking at, you know, a couple things. One is seeing, you know, if we can make some bus routes free, you know, what that would cost? You know, I would like to see what it would cost to make certain routes free. You know, another thing we're looking at is the agreements that CDTA has with employers right now, where, where the employees get free passes, how we can expand that program, make sure that people who work lower wage jobs, people really rely on the bus that need it, expand the amount of people in those positions, that have free access.”

Fein says free bus access would bring back pre-pandemic ridership levels, encourage travel and help local businesses.

"It'll reduce congestion, it'll reduce the amount of cars on the road, it's, you know, an environmental issue, create more walkable communities," Fein said. "But, you know, in the meantime, I think it's always an improvement if we can increase the number of people that have free access to the bus, especially amongst working people and people who really rely on the bus most need it most."

Angela Yetts of Albany depends on the bus to get around.
"We lost transportation even before the shutdown and the whole thing," Yetts said. "And it's tough. It's tough. Sometimes I'm in the house three or four days because I can't make it in this freezing cold. I've gotten older. So it's tougher to walk in all of this.”

She'd embrace Fein's "free ride" initiative. "I would love that. But what's the payoff on the other end? You know what I'm saying? Well, if they make public transportation free, they're going to make it up somehow, some way. Taxes, what? So that's what I'd like to know. How would they do it? "

CDTA director of corporate communications Jaime Kazlo says the authority has been studying the idea.

"So, we have had continuing conversations with Legislator Fein about his proposal and his proclamation earlier this year regarding a potential free fair system," Kazlo said. "So we've been talking with him over the the last several months about his ideas and we've been exchanging ideas with him as well and basically letting him know and giving him the information what goes into making that decision on whether or not a system could potentially go fare free so , I would say at this point, we are still in the fact finding stages."

Fein says new federal relief programs and initiatives like the American Rescue Plan, coupled with the way the pandemic has opened people's minds to doing things differently, makes free public transportation an attractive option.

Fein said "I think the time is now to take action." Yetts agreed. "It would help us seniors a lot."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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