Former Altamont-Voorheesville route riders hope CDTA bus line will make comeback

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

CDTA bus routes like one shown here in downtown Albany, serve many more riders than did Route 719, which serviced Voorheesville and Altamont.

VOORHEESVILLE — After losing access to Route 719, riders in Voorheesville and Altamont are hopeful the route can make some kind of a comeback. 

Approximately 17 were in attendance at the Voorheesville Firehouse on Wednesday as Carm Basile, chief executive officer of the Capital District Transportation Authority, and some of his senior staff were on hand for a meeting organized by village mayor Rich Straut. 

In August 2021 as ridership across the system dropped about 40 percent from pre-pandemic levels, the CDTA discontinued Route 719, which used to serve Voorheesville and Altamont on three to four runs a day.

Basile had been up front, stating he didn’t know if he and his staff would be able to make anyone at the Nov. 2 meeting happy. “We’re not here to say we’re going to do anything. But we’re here to tell you [what] we’re willing to do is listen,” he said.

He told the attendees that the CDTA was a business. Yes, it’s subsidized by tax dollars, but he said, “We’re a business; we have to report to the people who subsidize us.” And if something isn’t working, the CDTA isn’t supposed to allow it to continue; a review is undertaken.

But COVID or no COVID, Route 719 seemed destined for the chopping block. 

Basile was asked if the pandemic hadn’t happened, would Route 719 still be in effect. “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 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.

For the five years of available data from the CDTA, 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, is over 12 riders per hour, Ross Farrell, director of planning for the Capital District Transportation Authority, 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.

Basile was asked about the possibility of using fares from busier routes to subsidize the former Route 719.  

“We do that,” he said in response.

Basile said the threshold was as low as 10 customers per hour, adding later it was “a dozen to 15” riders per trip.

After some discussion, Basile asked those at the Nov. 2 meeting if they’d be willing to take a bus that traveled along the former Route 719 but then transferred at Crossgates Mall. After some clarification, many in the room said they would be amenable to the idea. 

The meeting was acknowledged by all in attendance as a success and Basile said he’d have something for riders “to look at and react to,” but ultimately, the question of CDTA’s success in Altamont and Voorheesville appeared to be answered by one of its own, a village resident and former 719 rider. 

“I’ve given this a lot of thought. I work for the state in downtown Albany. I grew up in Voorheesville,” he said. “Voorheesville has always been known as a bedroom community. It doesn’t have much to offer because everyone comes home at night, eats dinner, goes to bed, wakes up in the morning, and goes to Albany to work.

“So we’re filled with a bunch of state workers that go to Albany. And yet, we still can’t fill the 719 all those years ago. We’re just the — our society, we’re used to having our own independence, we have children, we have to go to sporting events. There’s all sorts of reasons why the bus doesn’t work for us.” 

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