1) With fare-less service going into effect, do you anticipate an increase in ridership?
Yes, the introduction of a fare-free service to the residents and visitors of Ulster County is based on the core principle of creating an equitable transportation network that not only creates viable routes throughout the county but also removes the financial barriers that prevents others from accessing our services. Ultimately, it is our intention to create a service where UCAT is considered to be the primary choice of travel within the communities throughout the county.
2) It’s my understanding that somewhere around 87 percent of the revenues for UCAT comes from federal and state funding, which is based in no small part on ridership numbers. I was told you guys are keeping the fare boxes, but what is the method chosen going forward to keep track of ridership?
Drivers for all routes and services inclusive of ADA paratransit will continue to identify the passenger type (full, reduced, paratransit) as we have always done in the past. UCAT currently uses both a pen/paper tally record as well as our mobile data terminals (MDT) inside the vehicles to record the number of passengers we transport on a daily basis.
3) Does UCAT anticipate requiring more buses if ridership increases?
Not necessarily acquiring more vehicles, but rather procuring the right vehicles. UCAT is currently implementing our Electrification Integration Plan in support of the county’s strategic Green New Deal plan of creating a 100 percent electric fleet by 2030. Over the past year, UCAT and the county have worked with community and private partners on the possible introduction of microtransit into UCAT’s existing portfolio of service offerings.
4) Is there an opportunity there where if more buses run more riders will ride?
UCAT’s focus is to lower our carbon footprint while creating a viable public transit network for our residents and visitors of Ulster County that will ultimately increase our ridership. We plan to do this by increasing the frequency levels and extending the times of service. It’s the matter of maximizing the efficient use of our two most valuable resources in our operation, our bus drivers and the vehicles they operate. Without our bus drivers this would not be possible … and is a true attestation of their commitment in being public servants.
5) On the UCAT homepage for the last month at least there has been posted a message blaming delays and missed service on “labor shortage.” Can you please provide details?
How long has it been going on? Which job positions need to be filled, and how many of each?
The commercial driver workforce has been on a national decline for several years due to a combination of factors inclusive of a wage discrepancy between the various industries to the stringent regulatory compliance requirements to become a CDL driver. Like every industry, we’ve seen a change in the workforce during the pandemic, where many have opted to change careers or retire. An integral part of our Electrification Integration Plan is around the recruitment and retention of qualified professionals as we electrify our operation.
6) Who handles UCAT’s online media communications for the webpage and Facebook?
UCAT does not have a single person or position directly responsible for managing the content and/or online media communications for our webpage and social-media accounts, but rather works directly with the county’s PR/marketing and I.S. departments on maintaining these sites.
7) Are there any towns and villages that do not receive bus service? Is there a plan to address UCAT service deserts going forward? Looking at the large map in the UCAT lobby, for instance, to go from Ellenville to Poughkeepsie to gain access to that economic generator New York City it seems they’re cut out because there’s no line going horizontally.
Correct. You’ve identified one of the many areas and challenges that are before UCAT. Essentially we only operate one route [Z Route] that essential goes east-west in the northern region of the county. The corridor between New Paltz and Ellenville on Route 44 is an area that we have receive community feedback on, and will be looking at more closely in the next few months as we continue our analysis of our system.
8) Are there communities that are happy with no easy public transportation access from Poughkeepsie, that you’re aware of … because it creates a sort of barrier to “undesirables”?
At the present time I’m unaware of this specific concern within our county. However, UCAT has identified frequency to/from the Poughkeepsie train station as an essential service to our county, and would like to create ways to make it more accessible to our residents and visitors. We maintain great relationships with the local authorities and our county sheriff’s office to ensuring our transportation network is safe for our customers.
9) A number of the Democratic candidates running for county executive mentioned microtransit as a solution going forward as a more flexible replacement capable of more targeted service, suggesting that the old service was outdated and polluted too much. With three electric buses up and running and nine more expected in the coming years, does that argument make sense to you?
The microtransit is a proposed solution that will supplement a fixed-route solution, not replacement. UCAT will be conducting a route analysis of our current fixed-route solutions with the goal of identifying areas of improvement to better meet the needs of our residents and visitors.
9) Whenever public services start being criticized in pubic for inefficiency, talk of privatization is never far away. Has there been any discussion of privatizing bus services in Ulster County that you’re aware of, say by you, or by UCAT representatives or representatives from the Ulster County executive?
It is my belief that a strong public transit network is essential to the vitality of our communities. UCAT is committed to creating an equitable transit network that is adaptable to the ever-changing needs of the county and our residents. Managing operational inefficiency is an ongoing process of data analysis and civic engagement to ensure that our services are delivering on the expectations of our customers. Criticism is not a bad thing, but is viewed as value-added feedback that lets us know we are not in alignment with the needs of the community.
I would not consider privatization as a viable solution, as UCAT is a source for employment within our county. The majority of UCAT employees live within the various communities within our county. The commitment and passion that is present by having a local workforce cannot be replicated by outside private companies. This is one of the things that make UCAT special. We are neighbors helping neighbors.
10) If so, would state and federal funding still be available? Would bus service remain free? What would be the anticipated effect on the pensions of workers currently employed at UCAT?
State and federal funding/reimbursement is primarily based on revenue mileage and passengers counts along with our operating expenses covered through the FTA. The fare-free service is provided by the county allocating funds received from the federal government during the pandemic. During this pilot phase, UCAT will be working with the county and community partners on creative ways to sustain this initiative long-term. Currently there is no immediate effect on the pensions of workers currently employed at UCAT. It’s important to note that fare-free means no cost to the rider. We are still counting the passengers to be reimbursed by the county for each passenger type in order to ensure we still receive our federal and state funding reimbursements.
11) What do you believe the mission of public transportation is, in terms of, getting people to employment opportunities, hospitals, shopping, recreation, connectivity, etc…
As I alluded above, public transportation is at the core of our communities, and UCAT collaborates with the UCTC on creating viable plans to meet the needs of the county. With a common goal of ensuring safe, equitable service, we work together with a clear focus on social, economic and environmental factors in creating a sustainable approach to transportation within Ulster County.
This has been referred to as the Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability. It’s my goal with the introduction of fare free and the integration of a 100 percent electric, zero-carbon fleet that we are addressing all three areas and making a positive and hopeful sustainable transit solution for our county.