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January 2, 2013

Bus system looks for way to expand

The Daily Star

---- — Transportation executives say local bus systems were a remarkably popular way to get around in 2012. Efforts are under way to build ridership by listening to consumer requests — such as providing a link to the Chobani plant in Chenango County.

Peggy Bush, terminal manager for Otsego Express in Richfield Springs, said it’s hard to beat the $1 charged by the system for a one-way ride — or $2 roundtrip — anywhere in Otsego County.

“You can’t even start your car for $2,” Bush said.

She said a growing number of riders are clamoring for a link to the Chobani yogurt plant in Columbus. The closest Otsego Express gets to the location is South Edmeston, on the east bank of the Unadilla River, which separates Otsego from Chenango County.

Bush said county officials plan to meet with Chobani executives to discuss the idea.

The busiest operator in the region, the Oneonta Transit System, is projected to have served 725,000 riders during 2012 once final numbers are tallied, system operations manager Paul Patterson said.

That is only a slight drop from the 728,000 rides provided in 2011 — a record year for the system.

The fact that the State University College of Oneonta was using every one of its dormitories during that period likely played a role in the small decline, Patterson said.

Patterson said the goal of the system is to eliminate its operating deficit while maintaining the affordability and convenience that the service it offers.

OPT, he noted, provides 52 rides based on the city’s population of about 14,000 people. He said the base fare for 2013 will remain at $1 for those picked up and dropped off in the city. It will go to $2 for those riding to or in from the town of Oneonta, with the exception of those who ride to or from the Hannaford grocery store, Hannaford Plaza, Price Chopper, Walmart and Southside Mall, as those companies help subsidize the routes.

In 2012, ridership for Otsego Express dropped by 9,660 from its 2011, largely because of the termination of a contract it had with Pathfinder Village, Otsego County Planner Karen Sullivan said. All told, Otsego Express had about 72,000 riders in 2012.

Meanwhile, the county, along with Otsego Express and Oneonta Public Transit, are working together on a cost-sharing initiative for service along Route 28, linking Cooperstown to the city of Oneonta. That partnership is expected to help streamline connections to Oneonta Public Transit for users of the Otsego Express perimeter routes that run through mostly rural towns in Otsego County, Sullivan said.

Otsego Express, Sullivan said, “is providing service not only for the public but also for Medicaid and third-party customers that are benefiting from public transportation. We are proud of the accomplishments, even though small, that we have made with the other agencies and look forward to 2013 to better serve the public.”

Consumer demand is also behind a decision by Schoharie County Public Transit to run buses five days a week Cooperstown, up from three days a week, system spokeswoman Ethel Benninger said. She said the riders are typically people with medical appointments at Bassett Medical Center.

“We’re going to be looking at a lot of new things in the new year,” Benninger said. The system had some 118,000 riders in 2011, and 2012 totals won’t be known for another month or so, she said.

“I am constantly seeing new people taking the bus,” she noted.