Ridership on public transportation plunged about 50% in past year

Photo by Tom Rivers: Bill Carpenter, CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, goes over data for RTS Orleans last week with the Orleans County Legislature. Carpenter said RTS is looking to expand services in the county.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 May 2021 at 11:07 am

ALBION – The ridership was down about half for RTS Orleans and its parent organization, Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

In Orleans, there were 22,670 riders during those 12 months, down from 43,000 the previous 12 months, Bill Carpenter, RGRTA chief executive officer told the Orleans County Legislature last week.

The last fiscal year for RGRTA, ridership was  ridership was 7,689,525. It is usually close to 16 million for an 8-county region.

The Covid-19 pandemic kept many people off the buses, especially when the state was on “PAUSE” with non-essential businesses closed from March 22 to May 28. During those 10 weeks ridership was down 70 percent, Carpenter said.

RTS Orleans has been part of the RGRTA system since 2003. RTS Orleans has 12 employees and 6 buses that drove 159,083 miles from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

RTS took Covid precautions with increased vehicle washing and disinfecting, increased use of PPE with masks required for all drivers and customers, daily employee health screening, and installation of operator barriers and fareboxes.

RTS Orleans operated on a $838,698 budget from April 2020 to March 2021. Fares and contract revenues totaled $16,312 for a net income loss of $822,386.

Government revenue included $85,000 in federal aid, which doesn’t count the $654,556 in federal stimulus funding which is intended to support the operation through September 2024. State funds in the past budget year were $30,173 with $29,166 from Orleans County. The locally collected mortgage tax added up to $241,416 towards the bus service.

RTS Orleans currently has a daily ridership of about 100 with two regular routes in Albion and Medina. Service is for those people traveling within 3/4 mile radius of the route. There is also dial-a-ride available within Orleans County with reservations made at least 24 hours in advance

RGRTA is looking to do a study of 10-12 smaller villages in the eight counties where there currently isn’t much public transportation service. Carpenter told county legislators last week that Holley in Orleans County will likely be part of that study.

RTS Orleans also wants to put a bus shelter in Medina, and the organization is waiting to see if federal funds will be approved for that project, Carpenter said.

RTS Orleans also would like to expand partnerships in the community, providing rides for free for vaccinations, partner with Workforce Development to help more people have transportation to jobs. That could include the agricultural sector, where farmers tend to work out those details themselves. In other counties, Carpenter said RGRTA assists farmers with getting migrant farmworkers to the fields, packing houses and other locations, including the grocery store.

RGRTA also is looking to start a bike share program in Brockport, and that program could be expanded to Orleans County. With that program, people rent a bike, and can go several miles one way and then get a return trip back on the bus. A vendor rents out the bikes.

Carpenter said RTS and the parent organization continue to look for ways to improve the service locally and throughout the region.

“Our biggest challenge us being in a state where people are leaving and not staying,” he said.