Kingston bus deal on the table: The route times they are a changin’ (maybe)

Kingston Plaza has been the main Kingston connection point between the UCAT and Citibus systems. The consultants say multiple connecting points could improve customer service. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

For those who’ve stood on Kingston street corners beginning to wonder whether they might have missed the hourly Citibus, help might be on the way. A new study sponsored by the city and county governments has recommended reducing the service frequency of Kingston’s public bus routes from an hour to 30 minutes on two of the routes and 45 minutes on the third. Greater service frequency, the consultants assured the audience of about 60 persons in Kingston’s city hall, would substantially increase system usage. It’s happened in other cities of Kingston’s population.

But there’s much more to the recommendations in the study released by consultant TransPro and available on the Ulster County Transportation Council website. The three sprawling Citibus-provided public bus routes have been made more compact to fit the new frequency pattern. Sunday bus service in Kingston would be eliminated. UCAT routes would be modestly adjusted to connect better with Kingston bus service.


Instead of bus routes miraculously extended to serve every ward in the city, “demand-responsive service” would be provided to city residents in the “demand response zones” more distant from the simplified route system. Upon 24 hours’ notice, a transit vehicle would pick them up, bring then to a bus stop or connection point, and later return them to their point of origin.

To many of the 60 persons who showed up at the public meeting Monday night, including city workers and citizens who depend on Citibus service, the most important proposed change was in management and control. It was a lively session. These folks reacted with suspicion to the implication that the eleven-vehicle Citibus system didn’t have the scale to achieve the operational efficiencies that were needed.

Though it doesn’t say so explicitly, the consultant report made clear it favored combining the smaller Citibus system with the larger county UCAT bus system, which has 31 vehicles in its fleet and a modern maintenance and storage facility on Golden Hill within city limits. That’s what’s on the table. The report presents two other scenarios, one involving no route changes and the other only Citibus route changes. Who would want to reject a recommended hybrid scenario “that incorporates the best of both worlds”?

Deliberately eschewing the terms “merger” and “takeover,” the report instead employs the word “integration,” as in “The goal of the integration scenarios was to provide frequent service to the density of the city while connecting the city to the entire county.” The two bus systems would be integrated, with UCAT the surviving entity. The $250,000 a year in annual operational savings anticipated from integration would be spent on more frequent service in Kingston.

The goal, perhaps because the federal government pays 90 percent of the costs and the state five percent more, is not to save money. It’s to provide improved service, the consultants said. It’s not anticipated that the number of driver positions in the two systems will be reduced. Maintenance and administrative staff positions will be discussed in negotiations between the governments and the unions.

Change is difficult. The folks from TransPro, much assisted by the support of county planning director Dennis Doyle, picked their way through a minefield of audience questions on Monday night. Immediately after the meeting, Doyle talked to the Democratic caucus – just about all the members – of the common council. Despite the commitment to the bus takeover – excuse me, the integration – of the county administration and the support of Kingston mayor Steve Noble, the legislators’ views will be crucial for the consultant recommendations to pass.

What could go wrong?  Read the cautionary tale of what’s happening in Poughkeepsie.