At the August 19 Ulster County Legislature session, freshman legislator Phil Erner had the satisfaction of voting for a resolution he had authored to make riding the Ulster County Area Transit buses in Ulster County free. Establishing a policy to eliminate mandatory fares for UCAT service, the resolution passed with no Republican support.
“I do want to thank legislator Laura Petit for jumping in early on this,” said Erner before his vote, “and legislators Kathy Nolan and Abe Uchitelle for coming on board.”
Erner also noted the opportunity created for discussion when he thanked Republican legislator Kevin Roberts, who had offered an amendment which would have included a sunset provision. The lack of such a provision is what appears to have turned the Republicans against the resolution.
Legislator Herb Litts said that without such a provision there’d be a lack of attention to assessing whether enacted resolutions were good or bad. “There’s a negative connotation when you say sunset,” said Litts before his no vote. “But what that does for us is it forces us to evaluate and reevaluate …. A sunset clause forces this body to review our action, evaluate its success or not success and take further action.”
Leader of the Republican minority Kenneth Ronk noted the relative lack of bus service presently available to the southern part of the county such as Marlborough and Wawarsing. One side of Shawangunk had no service at all, he said. Without a better plan for expanding public transportation throughout the county, he said, he would be a no vote.
Legislator Eve Walter recalled the abysmal route service options of a quarter-century ago. “And it was this vicious cycle of when we spoke to UCAT, they said, well, not enough people ride it,” said Walter. “And if not enough people ride it, what’s the point of us changing the routes and doing all those things? I think [fare-less service] gives us the opportunity to actually increase ridership in a way that we’ve never really considered before, and I do believe that the increase of ridership will result in an increase of routes.”
She said she was looking forward to many of the problems that had been facing the county for decades actually getting resolved. “So I’m looking forward to seeing that happen.”
Those that wished to had their say. All of a handful of public speakers who showed up or called in were supportive.
County executive Pat Ryan released a statement applauding the provision of free UCAT public transit to all. “We’re all feeling the pressure due to rising costs,” Ryan said in a statement. “Especially our lower-income communities, vulnerable populations, and seniors on fixed incomes. At a time when every bill and receipt is higher, Ulster County is stepping up and taking aggressive action to provide urgent relief to our residents. Reducing transportation costs will allow people to have one less thing to worry about.”
Erner was appreciative. “The executive was great,” he said. “They found out how we could do it. And I really appreciate that.”
The changes will go into effect on October 1, 2022.