Key findings and recommendations of a Mid-Hudson transit study have been released. The study, whose recommendations call for improvements like the expansion of some park and rides to microtransit zones, is still open for public comment.
The Connect Mid-Hudson Transit Study that commenced in 2018 aims to identify ways to improve transit connections among Orange, Dutchess and Ulster Counties as well as to major employment hubs outside the region, like New York City. The study looks at strengths and weaknesses of the existing regional transit network. The recommendations reflect pandemic-related changes in travel patterns.
Boris Palchik is senior transportation planner and project manager with Foursquare ITP, or Integrated Transportation Planning, the primary contractor working on the Connect Mid-Hudson regional transit plan.
“The Metro North ridership, when we looked at it in September of 2020, it was down about 75 percent from the previous year, and that’s still the case now, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent decline in ridership on Metro North, which is really kind of the main commuting mode in this region,” says Palchik.
He says the pandemic could lead to fewer commuters heading to New York City and Albany with more people telecommuting. Palchik says there’s an even bigger change in the region.
“One area where there may be differences in travel patterns, however, is Stewart Airport. So Stewart Airport had been kind of evolving over the recent 10 years or so to become a gateway, a passenger gateway to New York City,” says Palchik. “However, with the pandemic, that has really changed quite dramatically. Passenger service has almost completely ceased at Stewart Airport. However, cargo and freight traffic has actually increased as more people are shopping online, and so on.”
Palchik says that based on survey responses, respondents want upgrades to the New Paltz Park and Ride shelter; more amenities at Dutchess County Public Transit stops; more transit coverage in northern Dutchess County, and additional express bus trips after 6 p.m. from New York City to Newburgh. The study identified the region’s top 10 congestion hot spots.
“They were dispersed throughout the region, but definitely Orange County had the highest concentration both of congestion hot spots and park and rides that had capacity issues,” says Palchik.
The next finding leads to a recommendation.
“In the Mid-Hudson region, you have a fairly unique situation in that the, many of the providers of commuter service are private operators,” says Palchik. “These private carriers do receive public subsidies, however.”
And that recommendation, because of the number of private operators, he says, is to create a transit ombudsman.
“The ombudsman position, in addition to advocating for commuters, the idea is to also allow this ombudsman to kind of take a lead in some other tasks, such as service monitoring and service reporting, including reporting on park-and-ride utilization and on-time performance just so that these things are tracked regularly and frequently,” Palchik says.
Another recommendation relates to passenger information and mobile payment. He says the trend is moving away from transit-specific applications and toward open-source models and third-party apps. A third recommendation is to institute microtransit service, which Palchik describes as a public version of Uber and Lyft.
“It allows riders to directly request vehicles in real time through a smartphone app, or by phone if a person doesn’t have a smartphone, there’s usually a dial-in number as well," Palchik says. "This type of service recently was implemented in Albany on a, as a pilot program. They call their service Flex by CDTA. It’s currently limited to one zone in the city. It uses smaller vehicles than your typical transit vehicles, and they are dispatched through the CDTA app.”
CDTA is the Capital District Transportation Authority. The study identifies 10 microtransit opportunity zones in the Mid-Hudson region. Dutchess County Public Transit recently began a study of its system, which includes a look at microtransit solutions for Central Dutchess and the Harlem Valley.
Another recommendation is to expand park and rides. Chester, in Orange County, which is served by COACH USA is one example where the lot is at capacity nearly every weekday, with overflow into a Lowe’s parking lot. Palchik says the state Department of Transportation would have to purchase land from a property owner who, in previous years, did not want to sell. The study finds the Thruway Park and Ride in New Paltz could use expansion but that wetlands could also be impacted. Comments on the study are being accepted through the end of the month at connectmidhudson.com