March 14 2018

How buses can drive economic development

Times Union

By: Eric Anderson

Local officials embrace options for getting around

When the Capital District Transportation Authority rolled out its Universal Access program, it gave employees and students at 20 major colleges and businesses the option to take any bus, any time, on the transit authority’s route network.

The program grew to account for a quarter of CDTA’s 17 million rides last year, it said, setting a new record for ridership.

It was one of several initiatives that have given the transit authority a growing role in economic development while giving residents more ways to get around.

“It’s indisputable that transit and economic development drive each other,” said David Stackrow, the authority chairman. “Insuring people have choices … must be part of the development equation.”

CDTA brings jobs and people together, panelists agreed during a discussion Wednesday morning at Albany’s Renaissance hotel. Companies want to make sure they can get the workers they need if they locate or expand here.

“We see (CDTA) as part of our economic development team,” said Mark Eagan, president of the Capital Region Chamber.

“Employers are struggling to find the talent they need,” said Andrew Kennedy, CEO of the Albany-based Center for Economic Growth. “The challenge is getting the talent” from home to work.

And “get their employees to work consistently and on time,” added David Buicko, CEO of Schenectady-based Galesi Group.

While the Capital Region is still largely car-dependent, younger residents in particular are looking for alternatives.

Jeff Mirel, executive vice president of Rosenblum Companies, said more people are living in the region’s cities, while working in the suburbs.

“There’s probably no more critical infrastructure than mass transportation,” he said.

Rosenblum currently is developing The News, a 101-unit apartment building in downtown Troy, part of which is newly constructed and the rest built in the former Troy Record building.

CDTA currently is seeking to improve taxi services, although its CEO, Carm Basile, said it’s been “painfully slow” to get the various jurisdictions to agree on the plan.

The local metropolitan region consists of four large cities — Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, and Troy — with suburbs interspersed. That has posed some challenges.

“We can’t compete with each other,” said Buicko. We’ve got to complement each other. We’re one metropolitan area.”

The region’s strong job growth and major urban revitalization initiatives including Galesi’s Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady make the Capital Region an attractive place to live, panelists agreed.

“The strength of the region’s really tied to having these multiple transportation options,” said Assemblywomen Patricia Fahy.

CDTA began adding bicycle racks to its buses several years ago and last summer, it launched a seasonal bike share program that will double in size this spring. “The bike share — it says to the region ‘we’ve arrived,'” Fahy said.

Ryan Silva of the New York State Economic Development Council wondered whether light rail might also be in the region’s future. Faster Amtrak service to New York City “could be a huge game changer,” he said.

Added Buicko, “we could be a suburb of New York if we had a one-hour trip.”

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