Kingston Mayor Steve Noble said that the city is ready, willing and able to meet a July 1 target date for the takeover of Kingston’s more-than-century-old bus system by Ulster County. Proponents of the plan, which has been in the works since 2016, say the merger will save some $260,000 annually in administrative costs, while providing a more seamless and responsive system of mass transit in and around the city.
“Unless there are any major roadblocks that we are unaware of, we are ready for a July 1 transition,” said Noble.
The July 1 target date, which was announced in County Executive Mike Hein’s 2019 budget address, marks the culmination of process that began in 2016 when Noble and Hein hammered out an agreement to end a dispute over distribution of sales tax revenue between Ulster County, the City of Kingston and the county’s 20 town governments. Part of the deal called for the takeover by UCAT of the city’s own bus system. Noble said the deal signaled his commitment to what had long appeared a sensible solution to an apparent redundancy in municipal services, but that previous administrations had never summoned the political will to actually accomplish.
“Citibus dates to the late 1800s and it’s a big change to have something that has been around for over 100 years not operate anymore,” said Noble. “But sometimes you have to do what makes sense, even when it’s the harder thing.”
When the merger is complete, UCAT will add the city’s 11 vehicles and three routes to its own portfolio of 32 vehicles running on three routes. The Kingston routes will remain basically unchanged. The red route will continue to transport passengers from Kingston Plaza to Route 32 with stops at Golden Hill and the County Jail in between. The yellow route covers a stretch between the county’s Department of Social Services offices on Albany Avenue and Route 9W in Port Ewen. The Blue route runs from Kingston Plaza and down Broadway before terminating at HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley’s Mary’s Avenue Campus, the hospital formerly known as Benedictine. The merger will incorporate “route optimization” plans contained in a 2012 study, and subsequently adopted by UCAT that are intended to cut wait and travel times.
The 2012 study, which laid the groundwork for the merger, also calls for a new feature that will be incorporated into city bus service come July 1 — “demand-responsive transit zones.” The service will allow users to arrange, on 24 hours’ notice, a ride from their homes to a nearby bus stop. Other new features included in Hein’s 2019 budget proposal include free fares for all veterans and active-duty military members, as well as for SUNY Ulster students. Hein’s budget also provides money for free fares for everyone during the transition process and an advertising campaign to inform riders of the changes.
The merger proposal still needs approval from the Kingston Common Council and the Ulster County Legislature.