Round and Round, All Through the Town

I need to be at work in an hour. I pull on my coat and shuffle out the door to make the four block walk up to James Street from my Northside apartment building. It is colder this afternoon and not many people are out, however there is still a small crowd at the bus stop. I put in my headphones and huddle into a back corner of the bus shelter to avoid the wind.

Three buses pull up - one right behind the other. It doesn’t matter which one I get on; they all bring me to the same stop. I climb onto the second one - it’s less crowded than the first - and swipe my pass through the machine in the front.

There’s an open seat towards the back, and I slide in. For being less crowded, the bus is still pretty full, but nobody has to stand yet. I pull up a bubble pop game on my phone while I wait for my stop. Some people read or talk to the person sitting next to them, but the majority are on their phones. There is wifi on the buses that usually works, which means that I don’t need to use my data.

It takes about fifteen minutes to get Downtown to the bus stop on the 100 block of South Salina Street. That is where I need to transfer to my next bus. I climb out and wait next to the bus stop; there are more people waiting at this one and little room for me to hide in the corner of the bus shelter. Three buses and ten minutes go by.

“It must be running a little late today.”

A bus with the correct route number arrives and I climb on. As I sit down, I hear an older gentleman behind me ask the bus driver, “Will this bus bring me up to North Salina?”

“Yes, sir, this bus will run up North Salina.” The older gentleman nods and drops his change into the ticketing machine. I like the bus drivers on the Centro buses. They are nice and helpful when asked, and mostly quiet when not.

I settle into my seat and pull my game back up on my phone. In 20 minutes we’ll reach the mall, and I’ll be just on time for work.

When we started our Economic Opportunity research, transportation access was a major theme that arose. It’s hard to find or keep work if you can’t get there. All of the members of our team have cars and drive to work, so transportation challenges aren't something that we typically experience. So we decided to take the bus to see what public transit in Syracuse was really like.

We identified neighborhood starting points as well as targeted end points that  residents might frequent. The route from the Northside to DestiNY was just one of the ones we took; we also made trips to Camillus, OCC, Fayetteville, St. Joe's Hospital, and the Southwest Community Center. Our major takeaways from the bus rides were that riding the bus during peak hours was fairly easy, however it was definitely longer than driving. The major difficulty came in with the planning: 

“Which lines will take me to where I need to go?” “These route numbers are different, but they go to the same place?” “Did we miss the bus? Or is it just running a few minutes late?”

Centro bus route map for the City of Syracuse

Centro bus route map for the City of Syracuse

As people who don’t take the bus on a regular basis, planning our rides and navigating the system was confusing. This would be less so for someone who takes the bus every day, but what if your work shifts change frequently? How does that change the route and timing of the bus you take?

Luckily, Centro recognized this challenge, and now there’s an app for that. The GoCentroBus app has a trip planner, bus stop locations, and live updates on the arrival of buses. It also includes alerts with an app tutorial and public meeting notices.

However, being able to plan for and navigate the bus system doesn’t help you if you need to get to a location where the bus doesn’t go, or if you need to go somewhere during off-peak hours. Centro does an awesome job running the routes that it does, but it has limited resources, and many of our City’s employment hubs are not centrally located. Additionally, many of the jobs  in these areas are second and third shift, that start or end at times when the buses aren’t running to all locations.

The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC) is currently undertaking a study called Work Link. This study aims to understand the gaps in the transportation network between low-income residents and employment opportunities.  Ultimately, the study will identify recommendations to address these gaps.

Throughout Central New York and in neighboring cities, there are also other new, exciting programs which address transportation access gaps. Right here in our community, Deborah Hundley has created a startup called Providence Services, a non-profit organization that maintains a shuttle program to get residents to and from work. The City of Rochester is piloting a similar vanpool program with vRide. Elsewhere, the Centennial, Colorado i-team worked to help bring a  first and last mile commuting program to their city by partnering with Lyft.

Have you seen other great ways to address transportation gaps? Do you have ideas that you would like to see in our community? Let us know in the comments!