Kingston Common Council OKs plan to merge city and county buses

(Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

A proposal to merge Kingston’s bus system with Ulster County’s cleared another hurdle on Tuesday when the Common Council voted 7-1 to approve plan. City and county officials expect to complete the merger between Citibus and UCAT by July 1. Ward 7 Alderman Patrick O’Reilly cast the sole dissenting vote. 

The merger of the two bus systems grew out of discussions between former county executive Mike Hein and Mayor Steve Noble as the two sought a resolution to an impasse over how to divide sales tax revenue between the city, the county and 20 Ulster County municipalities. Planning and design of a new system was carried out by the Ulster County Planning Department.

Under the terms of the deal, the city will pay Ulster County $112,500 during the first year of the merger and $225,000 annually for the next five years. That money, Noble said, would be invested in replacement of some aging city buses and upgrades like Wi-Fi and GPS tracking for others. After six years, the county will assume all costs for bus service within the city. 

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When the merger is complete, UCAT will add 11 former Citibus vehicles and three new routes to its own portfolio of 32 vehicles and three routes. Under the plan, which grew from a 2012 route optimization study by the county’s planning department, Kingston Plaza will continue to serve as a hub for bus service in the city. From there one route will run to the city line on Route 32 with stops at Golden Hill and the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center. A second route will run between the county’s Department of Social Services and Family Court complex on Albany Avenue to Port Ewen. The third route will run from the plaza along Broadway to HealthAlliance Hospital’s Mary’s Avenue campus. The merger proposal also calls for new services including “demand transit zones” which will allow users to arrange a ride from their homes to the nearest bus stop with 24 hours notice and free fares for active-duty military members, veterans and SUNY Ulster students. The plan also calls for free fares for all riders for the six months following the merger. 

Noble said the plan would eventually save city taxpayers about $300,000 annually. The county, he said, would benefit from economies of scale in the larger fleet and access to increased federal transportation funds.

“[Hein] and I sat down to work out something save money and not cost either of us more money in the long run,” said Noble. “And I think we’ve achieved that with this plan.” 

The proposal still needs the approval of the county legislature. Once that happens, the Federal Transportation Council and the state Department of Transportation will need to sign off on the new bus routes following a period of public comment.

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