“Imagine you wake up in the morning to catch the bus and the trip on that bus is faster and more direct. Across the transit system, buses on busy roads are reaching their destinations faster and more direct,” said RTS CEO Bill Carpenter at a press gathering Friday. “That so many buses run every 10 to 15 minutes that our customers no longer feel the need to take a look at a schedule. And if we don’t get customers directly to their destinations they’re able to rent a bike with Zagster or pay for and schedule a ride with Uber and Lyft on their RTS smartphone app.
“When I imagine the future of public transit, what it could look like in our community, that’s a snapshot of what I see,” Carpenter said.
RTS has commissioned California-based Transportation Management & Design Inc., who will work with local firm Highland Planning, to conduct the study, analyze community input and data and make recommendations for what a reimagined public transit system could look like.
The $500,000 Reimagine RTS study will take place in three phases. The first phase will set goals and gather input from stakeholders in the community. Carpenter said RTS has reached out to area economic development councils and others for input, and plans to continue gathering feedback from the community on what they need from the public transit system in Monroe County.
RTS will have a group that will include representatives from all levels of government, as well as the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Rochester Downtown Development Corp., Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. and others to assess the information at the same time the consultants do.
Carpenter said funds for the study were set aside in RTS’ budget by its board of commissioners and will not have an impact on bus fares.
An origin and destination survey of transit customers will be conducted from Oct. 5 through Oct. 27. Phase 2 will analyze data and identify priorities and products. Included in the data will be information collected during the survey.
During Phase 3 of the Reimagine RTS study, TMD will build upon and use the information from the first two phases to reimagine the public transit system here, and that will be in the form of recommended changes for consideration.
“We chose this name because it’s welcoming. The name is inviting for the public to participate with this process,” Carpenter said. “We’re going through a transformation in public transportation right now, and it’s a future that we need to reimagine, and we’re going to starting today.”
Carpenter noted that the public transit system in Monroe County has remained the same for decades, designed when downtown Rochester was the center of the community.
“Since then, the demographics of our area have changed. The locations of employment centers have changed. The number of available mobility options has changed,” Carpenter said. “We’ve made adjustments here at RTS but the basic system is still the same.”
Carpenter said requests from senior citizens, millennials, individuals with disabilities and those working to escape poverty continue to grow. He also noted that RTS continues to assess where other transfer points might be needed, in addition to its downtown transit center.
One scenario, he said, would be to have several RTS transfer points to allow for more direct trips from the downtown transit center to one located near a college or popular shopping destination or business.
“More businesses are locating in areas of our region that are not being served well by public transit and in some cases we’re not serving those areas at all,” he added.
The availability of bikesharing, ridesharing, vanpooling and other modes of transportation has changed the landscape of public transit locally.
“We’re not the only game in town. The personal car is not the only game in town,” Carpenter said. “What does public transit look like in our community now? It’s created a new reality that we will not ignore, and that’s why we’re conducting this study.”
An information session will take place at the SUNY College at Brockport MetroCenter on Oct. 25, and throughout October RTS will have a survey available on its website for community members.
“We cannot, we will not, ignore the changes that are happening both in public transportation and in our community. This is the right thing to do. It’s the responsible thing to do,” Carpenter said. “And this project, when complete, will help us achieve our vision and make it easier for our customers to enjoy the ride and for our community to be more successful.”
The study is expected to be completed by the end of 2018, with implementation of the consultants’ recommendations to take place sometime after that. RTS will have to work with state officials on funding, Carpenter noted.
“We were very clear with our consultant that we need to have an option that says here are the resources we have. What does it look like with the resources we have,” Carpenter added.
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer
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