CDTA plans to bring service back to Voorheesville by mid-February, and later to Altamont

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Shown is a CDTA bus stop in downtown Albany. The transit authority in August 2021 shut down Route 719 because of low ridership. This week, thanks to local residents’ support, parts of the old route will be brought back into service. 

VOORHEESVILLE — In this instance, the old adage holds true: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

In November, area residents came to the Voorheesville firehouse to voice their concerns over losing access to Route 719. This week, the Capital District Transportation Authority announced a two-phase plan that will bring a large portion of the route back into service. 

The route was closed, like many others, during the height of the pandemic when weekday ridership of 60,000 was down between 66 and 75 percent. In the summer of 2021, one of the route’s regular riders, Marie Irving, gathered 241 signatures on a petition, asking that Route 719 be reinstated

The first phase will begin Monday, Feb. 13, and is an extension of Route 519, which currently ends at the Elm Avenue Park-and-Ride lot in Delmar.

The second phase would be a separate route, from Altamont to Crossgates Mall.

“But we really don’t have a timeline on that right now,” said Jaime Kazlo, the director of corporate communications for the Capital District Transportation Authority.

Kazlo told The Enterprise that the CDTA has been in the process of re-evaluating routes over the last year. 

And with the former 719 in particular, Kazlo said, “The community came to us and asked if we would take a look at it again.” She said there had been “quite a bit of community engagement about bringing this particular route back.”

But the entire Route 719 is not being brought back into service. 

As of Feb. 13, Route 519, which currently terminates at the park-and-ride in Delmar, will be extended into Voorheesville. Kazlo said CDTA’s planning department is still working on the details of routing but said its terminus would likely be near the Voorheesville Public Library. 

Bringing back service, Kazlo said, “really came down to the community reaching out to us and engaging with us about the route.” Residents asked if there’s a “possibility to bring this back,” she said, and “we went out and had a community meeting,” at which there was “quite a bit of support for it.”

“So we felt it was a good time to extend that route,” she said, “give it a try and see how it goes.”

At that November meeting, Carm Basile, the CDTA’s chief executive officer, was asked if the pandemic hadn’t happened, would Route 719 still run. “Probably not,” he answered.

Another attendee jumped in and said that the CDTA keeps route performance reports on its website. “And it was written in there, they’re going to do away with 719,” he said “The writing’s on the wall.”

Basile also pushed back on attendees who said Route 719 was busy by pointing out the CDTA had an electronic counting system that largely said it wasn’t. “We make adjustments for the service type, you know, and everyone’s telling me that it was ‘full bus, full bus, full bus.’ Let’s just say that the numbers that we had don't agree with that,” he said.

According to the five years of available CDTA data, from 2014-15 to 2018-19, the number of riders per hour on Route 719 was 7.6, 10.3, 9.7, 8.1, and 6.5. 

The “productivity target” for a commuter route, like 719, was over 12 riders per hour, Ross Farrell, director of planning for the CDTA, told The Enterprise in August 2021. Of 50 bus routes, Route 719 was in the bottom five, with just six or seven riders per hour, Farrell said at the time.

Asked this week about the rider threshold, Kazlo said CDTA wasn’t worried about it “right out of the gate.” She said CDTA wants to bring service back to the area because there had been ardent support for it. “So we’re bringing it back and seeing if the community is going to jump on board and ride with us,” she said. 

But that’s not to say the transit authority won’t evaluate the route and ridership in the future, she said; the CDTA is confident right now that bringing service back “is a good thing.”

Kazlo said, with any route, the CDTA likes to have six to eight months worth of data to evaluate before it starts looking at route productivity. But it would be about a full year before it fully evaluates at how the new service is performing.

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