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Rural Workforce Transportation Plan
I. Key Findings
Transportation needs and gaps arise from a variety of factors, including geographic barriers, the high cost of housing and transportation, worker access to vehicles, gaps in the existing public transportation network and service, and a lack of alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle use.
Most rural workers travel to the Glens Falls area; however a significant number of workers travel within the region to other rural areas or outside the region to other urban centers such as Rutland, Bennington, Saratoga Springs, and the greater capital district.
Employers and business leaders have faced difficulties with attracting and retaining workers due to transportation issues; some efforts to address these issues on a piecemeal basis have met with limited success.
Traditional public transit systems will not be able to meet the demand of rural transportation; alternative transportation modes and new technologies may be able to address certain gaps.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach which will work for the entire region. Public-private transportation solutions could be developed to meet the specific needs of discrete locations.
High priority areas for potential pilot programs have been identified with a focus on the Village of Granville and the hamlet of Warrensburg. Additional priority areas may also have feasible potential for solutions depending on community and employer buy-in.
Local land use and development decisions do not always take into account transportation needs.
The issue of rural transportation needs has been an ongoing concern in the region. The Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board (LCLGRPB), which provides regional planning and economic development services throughout Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Warren, and Washington Counties, identified rural workforce transportation as a topic of concern within the Forward Together: Economic Resiliency Plan (2021). Similarly, the Adirondack/Glens Falls Transportation Council (A/GFTC), which conducts transportation planning services in Warren and Washington Counties, and in the Town of Moreau (Saratoga County), has engaged in related planning efforts. Notably, the 2017 Rural Transportation Needs Assessment and Options Analysis and the 2018 Coordinated Human Services Transportation Plan examined rural transportation needs, though neither plan focused on workforce issues specifically.
To address this issue, the LCLGRPB and A/GFTC have collaborated to develop a Rural Workforce Transportation Plan for areas within the A/GFTC Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).
* Develop a comprehensive understanding of the transportation needs and gaps which hinder workforce participation in the region.
* Identify opportunities to improve connectivity of workers to employment centers.
* Identify transformative transportation infrastructure projects.
III. Existing Conditions Summary
A. Regional Overview
The geographic focus of this plan is on the A/GFTC Planning and Programming Area, which includes all of Warren and Washington counties as well as the Town of Moreau and Village of South Glens Falls in Saratoga County. For the purposes of this plan, the term urban core refers to the area comprised of the city of Glens Falls, the villages of South Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, and Fort Edward, as well as some surrounding areas of the towns of Queensbury, Kingsbury, and Fort Edward. (See Map 1). The remainder of the focus area is referred to as rural . This definition is distinct only for the purposes of this plan and does not reflect the official urban area boundary as delineated by the US Census. Within the rural areas, hamlets and villages may be referred to as rural population centers .
1) Existing Transit Service
Greater Glens Falls Transit (GGFT) began operation in 1984 through a collaborative agreement among eleven contiguous municipalities centered around the Glens Falls urban area from Lake George/Bolton Landing in the north, south to the Towns of Moreau and Fort Edward (see Map 1). It operates a fleet of eighteen transit vehicles and historically carried over 350,000 riders a year. With some exceptions, year-round service operates from 6:30am through 10:00pm Monday through Friday with a more limited schedule on Saturdays, with a service span of Lake George to Moreau/Fort Edward. GGFT also operates a summer season trolley bus service between Bolton Landing/Lake George and Glens Falls from late June through Labor Day (and on weekends in spring and fall).
GGFT has periodically studied and considered various scheduled transit services to the rural area but has consistently found insufficient demand to justify the local financial support required to make them feasible. The only recent exception to this was a pilot expansion of the summer trolley route which included occasional service to Warrensburg. This service has since been discontinued.
Like all small transit operators in New York, GGFT faced a significant, ongoing drop in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although mandated restrictions on bus capacity have been lifted, ridership has not yet returned to historic levels. Another challenge exacerbated by the pandemic has been finding qualified drivers, especially for the summer trolley service. Despite these challenges, GGFT has nonetheless expanded access to transit in other ways. In particular, GGFT recently debuted a new mobile electronic fare payment platform to allow riders to purchase bus fare through a mobile app. This system also allows fares to be transferred electronically, which will allow bus tokens to be sent to anyone with a smartphone.
GGFT offers complementary paratransit service to individuals unable to access the fixed-route services. This service is branded as Freedom and Mobility Express (FAME). FAME is available for travel within mile of GGFT s fixed-route services and all passenger pick-ups and drop-offs must be within this area. The service is available during the fixed-route operating hours and based on the route schedule. Fares for FAME trips are double the fare on the fixed-route system.
In addition, GGFT partnered with CDPHP in 2021 to expand the Cycle! bikeshare system to the Glens Falls/Lake George area. The provision of low-cost bikeshare in the vicinity of two of the area s busiest transit hubs Ridge Street in Glens Falls and Beach Road in Lake George will benefit transit riders looking to make the first mile/last mile connection.
In terms of other transit services, the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) historically maintained an extension of the Northway Express in South Glens Falls. This provided access to Saratoga, Clifton Park, and the larger Capital District area. However, this service was discontinued in 2020 with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In February 2023, GGFT and CDTA, in conjunction with the City of Glens Falls, proposed a merger between the two transit providers. This proposal was approved by the Warren County Board of Supervisors in May 2023. Under the terms of this transition, GGFT routes will be operated by CDTA; GGFT vehicles will be incorporated into the CDTA fleet and re-branded accordingly. In addition, to accommodate CDTA operating procedures, transit operations will be shifted from flag-down to fixed-stop service. As of November 2023, CDTA signs in the Glens Falls urban area have begun to be installed. Further operational changes may be undertaken as the transition progresses.
B. Demographic, Economic, and Transportation Conditions
To gain a thorough understanding of the characteristics of the population in the region, a variety of statistics were analyzed. These are summarized below; for the complete analysis including data, graphs, and maps, see Appendix 1.
* Population Density and Distribution: Villages and hamlets contain pockets of higher-density housing, services, and employment which service the surrounding rural area. The Village of Whitehall and the hamlet of Warrensburg contain the highest densities of population in the rural study area.
* Race and Ethnicity: The area has low rates of racial and ethnic diversity; however, distribution of minorities is unequal, with the hamlets/villages of North Creek, Bolton Landing, Lake George, Lake Luzerne, Granville, and Greenwich having higher percentages of minorities compared to the surrounding towns.
* Age: The highest concentrations of working age residents can be found in Chestertown, Lake George (village), Lake Luzerne, Whitehall, Fort Ann, and Salem. Hague, Horicon, Putnam, Dresden, and northern Queensbury had the highest concentrations of senior population.
* Education: The highest concentration of residents with a bachelor s degree or higher can be found in the towns of Queensbury, Lake George, Moreau, Greenwich, and Cambridge. Conversely, over 15% of residents in Whitehall, Hampton, Hebron, and portions of Granville, Fort Edward, and Glens Falls lack a high school diploma.
* Poverty Status: The rural population centers with the highest estimated rates of poverty are Argyle, Whitehall, and Granville. The tract with the highest estimated poverty rate was located in Hebron.
In terms of employment statistics, the following factors were examined:
* Unemployment Rates: After a rise in unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the region has largely recovered and current unemployment rates are comparable to 2019 levels. The rural population centers of Salem, Argyle, Chestertown, and Bolton Landing had higher unemployment rates than the surrounding area. Conversely, the towns of Kingsbury, Lake George, Putnam, and Dresden had the highest rates of unemployment when measured by census tract.
* Work-From-Home Rates: After peaking during the Covid-19 lockdowns, work-from-home rates have declined to about 7,500 residents, which is still significantly higher than pre-2019 levels.
* Labor/Industry Profile: A comparison of jobs by sector from August 2019 and August 2022 shows a loss of jobs across almost all sectors except for Natural Resources, Mining, and Mineral Extraction. However, the overall proportion of jobs has not changed, with the top three sectors comprised of Leisure and Hospitality; Trade, Transportation and Utilities; and Education and Health Services.
* Employment Clusters: There are discrete areas in which mostly rural residents work, namely Rutland, Bennington, and Manchester within Vermont, as well as the rural portions of Warren and Washington Counties.
To gain an understanding of the movement of residents throughout the region, as well as any transportation-related barriers and burdens which may be experienced by the population, the following analyses were completed:
* Commuting Patterns: Most travel for work flows towards the urban core or the capital district. However, there are some discernable patterns of commutation within the rural areas, for example between Whitehall and Vermont. There are minor travel patterns from the urban core area to Lake George, Warrensburg, Fort Ann, Granville, and Argyle.
* Employment Inflow-Outflow: Each rural population center was analyzed to compare inflow-outflow rates, which captures how many people travel into an area, stay within the area, or travel outside the area for work.
* Commute Distance: Over 60% of rural work trips are less than 15 miles. Another 26% are for trips of 16-30 miles; altogether, this indicates that 86% of work trips originating from these hamlets and villages are less than 30 miles.
* Access to Vehicles: The Village of Cambridge, City of Glens Falls, and towns of Whitehall and Hampton have the highest rates of population without access to vehicles.
* Transportation Cost Burden (TCB): This metric quantifies transportation costs as a percentage of income of the typical household for the region. The towns of Putnam, Dresden, and Argyle have the highest TCB rank.
* Areas of concentrated disadvantage: The towns of Hebron, Whitehall, Hampton, Granville, and Fort Edward have the highest ranks when considering combined disadvantage metrics according to criteria measured by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
C. Survey and Stakeholder Input
Beginning in October 2022, the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board and its consultant partners conducted two surveys concurrently over a two-month time period. One survey was focused on those who work in the region while the other was focused on regional employers.
The surveys were marketed online and via social media campaigns. In addition, fliers were posted throughout the region, including at local libraries, town/county offices, and at Stewart s shops. Several employers and agencies also distributed this survey to their employees/constituents via email. Over 200 employees and 26 regional employers in Warren and Washington Counties completed this survey. It is important to note that, as these respondents elected to participate, the data below has some inherent limitations when compared to a true randomized sample.
* Transit limitations. Several participants noted that existing transit services could not accommodate the specific schedules or work locations, while there was a moderate number of responses indicating a willingness to use transit if it was available.
* Ridesharing limitations. According to employers, carpooling among employees is already occurring on a regular basis. Although this allows for those without a vehicle or license to attend work, the practice is not without downsides. For example, if the carpool driver is sick, on vacation, or not scheduled that day, the other employees may be without options to get to work.
* Incentives and opportunities. The surveys indicated varying levels of success with programs to provide transportation assistance. Bus tokens and gas cards can assist workers, but only if they live close to existing transit or have access to a vehicle. Direct transportation services, such as Tech Valley Shuttle and private taxis, were also utilized by individual businesses. However, the high cost of these services (in one case estimated at $10,000 per month) are not sustainable long-term. Discontinued programs, such as Wheels to Work and the Second-Chance program for previously incarcerated individuals, could also help fill gaps if these programs are re-instated.
* Housing. It was noted that affordable housing options are often located well outside of the areas served by transit or other transportation services. In a related issue, several large employers noted that the catchment area for their employees is outside of the A/GFTC area, which may complicate efforts to coordinate certain transportation solutions.
* Childcare. Several participants pointed out that a lack of affordable, convenient childcare compounds transportation issues.
IV. Rural Workforce Mobility Needs Analysis
To identify regional needs, the elements of a successful workforce transportation system must be clearly defined. These characteristics, or measures of success, can then be used to define the parameters of potential solutions.
It is important to note that no one program or project will fulfill every measure of success. However, identifying a range of potential solutions which work together can act as a framework to address most, if not all, elements.
A. Characteristics for Successful Rural Workforce Transportation:
* Availability and predictability: Aside from on-call positions, most jobs are scheduled at least a week in advance. For regular day-to-day commuting, workers need to have reasonable assurance that transportation services will be available when they need it, in a predictable fashion. In addition, transportation services must be available within a reasonable time before/after work (ideally no more than a 30-minute wait).
* Cost/Affordability: The link between transportation and employment can often seem to pose a chicken or the egg conundrum: those without the means or ability to own a vehicle find it difficult to get a job, which in turn further hampers any effort to get a vehicle. As such, any solutions proposed should take into consideration cost to the user; programs which are too expensive for the target audience to afford will be doomed to failure. Similarly, employer-focused solutions should also take financial sustainability into account.
* Technology: Many new transportation services are reliant on smartphone apps or web access. This poses a barrier to those without smartphones or who live or work in areas without reliable cell service. Options to allow scheduling over the phone are a must in order to accommodate these workers.
* Safety and accessibility: The employee survey indicated that 96% of respondents would be willing to walk up to a half mile to access a bus stop or carpool; a significant portion would walk up to a mile. However, many areas of the region lack dedicated sidewalks, or even wide road shoulders, which could feasibly accommodate pedestrians. These first-mile/last-mile issues are often related more to local transportation and land use decisions than they are to transit operations. In addition, not all workers are able to walk. Transportation service pick-up points should be located within a reasonable, safe walking distance of origin points and must accommodate accessibility from an ADA perspective.
* Flexibility: Although the daily commute can often be predicted well in advance, flexibility for emergency trips and/or errands is highly desirable. The ability to go home early or late, to deviate from the normal route to run errands, or to accommodate childcare drop offs/pickups, was cited as one of the main reasons workers choose to drive alone. Ideally, transportation services would also allow this flexibility to some extent.
With the parameters of a hypothetical system of transportation services now defined, it is important to take stock of the specific needs, gaps, and barriers which were revealed through the existing conditions analysis and the survey/stakeholder input. These also include general issues which could complicate the facilitation of programs and projects aimed at rural workforce transportation.
1) Travel from rural areas to urban core
The existing conditions data analysis of travel patterns indicates that the prevalent direction of travel for work trips flows towards urban core areas. This was also underscored by the results of the survey and stakeholder analysis. In particular, the existing condition analysis noted significant travel flow to the core urban area from Warrensburg, Lake George, Lake Luzerne, Whitehall, Granville, Fort Ann, Argyle, and Greenwich. To a lesser extent, this rural-to-urban pattern also applies to the following links: Greenwich to Saratoga/Wilton, Whitehall to Fair Haven/Castleton/Rutland Vermont, Cambridge to Bennington, Warrensburg to Saratoga/Wilton, and Warrensburg to Albany.
Together, these travel corridors represent probable areas of transportation need, as there are no established transportation services which allow for these movements aside from ad hoc ridesharing and/or incentive programs set up by individual employers. It can be assumed that there is a potential for additional workers in the rural areas to find jobs in the urban core but are prevented by lack of transportation.
One major barrier to providing transportation services between rural and urban areas is the low population density and diffuse land use patterns outside of the urban core. Smaller population centers may have the potential to act as collection points for rides to the urban area, but this might not accommodate workers in the most rural areas. In addition, workforce transportation needs are inherently somewhat fluid as workers change jobs or enter or leave the workforce, which can make it difficult to engage in route planning for transportation services seeking to fill this need.
Another barrier is that these travel patterns do not conform to established programmatic service areas. For example, a significant number of workers in Whitehall and Cambridge commute to Vermont. Even if there was a public transportation agency in Washington County which could provide workforce transportation, setting up a service which crosses state boundaries represents a major (though not unsurmountable) hurdle in terms of administration. Similarly, it has been historically difficult to establish a strong connection between downtown Glens Falls and Saratoga, due to the boundaries of the GGFT and CDTA service areas.
2) Travel within rural areas
Commute travel pattern data from the existing condition analysis indicates that movement between rural communities is more common for rural residents; fewer residents from the urban core travel to the rural areas for work. Although not the focus of this study, this also affects human service agencies and their clients.
Although the sparse travel patterns make it difficult to identify catchment areas, the inflow-outflow information seems to indicate three types of patterns: population centers that export workers, population centers that import workers, and population centers which are more or less balanced. For example, Whitehall, Warrensburg, Granville, Greenwich, Argyle, and Cambridge send more workers than they receive , which suggests that there may be potential for transportation services tailored to the workers who live in those areas and work elsewhere. Conversely, Lake George, North Creek, Bolton Landing, and Pottersville appear to be destinations for employment. When taken together, these patterns begin to suggest areas of probable need from a transportation perspective.
In terms of barriers, the same issues of low population density and fluid origin points stated above also apply to transportation within rural areas. In addition, employment centers in the rural areas may be located outside of hamlet areas, which complicates efforts to identify or create shared transportation services. However, one potential mitigating factor is that the work trip distance analysis indicates that most workers travel relatively short distances less than 30 miles. Potential transportation services could theoretically have a limited service area while still meeting the needs of many residents in and around these rural population centers.
3) Expansion of GGFT Schedule/Service Area
Survey responses and stakeholder outreach indicate that evening/weekend transit services do not adequately address the needs of employees. This is compounded by confusion regarding the services which currently exist; in some cases employers cited schedule conflicts based on outdated or inaccurate information. Previous efforts to provide night/evening service have met with mixed results; currently, evening/weekend services must balance rider demand with the lack of available drivers. There may be potential for complementary services, such as guaranteed ride home programs or after-hours transportation, to address gaps in scheduling.
Similarly, survey and stakeholder outreach indicated gaps in transit service coverage within the core urban area. Specifically, the industrial parks on Queensbury Avenue and to SUNY Adirondack (both the main campus and satellite Culinary Arts building in Glens Falls) were mentioned. It is important to note that these two areas have been the focus of specific outreach efforts and service proposals by GGFT. In particular, a route to the Culinary Arts building was the focus of a pilot service, which was later discontinued due to lack of riders.
One major barrier is the ongoing driver shortage at GGFT. Currently, large scale route and schedule expansions are unlikely unless this issue can be addressed. In addition, previous attempts at route and schedule expansion may indicate that merely providing service may not result in transit usage without additional support. As such, long-term transit planning efforts should also take into account the need for robust, ongoing efforts to attract and retain riders. This includes not only the transit provider but also employers and related economic development/planning agencies.
4) Vehicle Access and Affordability
Lack of consistent access to vehicles is one of the most difficult gaps in rural transportation to address. This can include not having a car at all; having only infrequent access to a vehicle; lacking resources to maintain, insure, and fuel a vehicle; and/or the inability to drive.
According to the existing conditions analysis, lack of access to a vehicle affects up to 15% of working age residents in certain rural areas. Individuals and households without vehicles are sometimes located far from community centers or hamlets, making access even more difficult. In addition, many towns were noted to have an especially high Transportation Cost Burden by the Justice40 parameters set by FHWA.
Lack of vehicle access is an issue can affect almost anyone without warning, in the case of a car crash, financial difficulties, or changes in the household due to death or divorce. For those looking to learn to drive, driver s education courses may not be accessible either. As such, vehicle access represents a distinct gap facing the region.
Obviously, the cost of vehicle purchase and maintenance are the largest burdens in this case. Some programs exist to address these issues on an individual basis; see section V.F for more information. Although providing vehicles to workers and families is a beneficial goal (and often results in reduced burden on human service agencies as a whole), it cannot address large-scale gaps on a regional basis.
Although ridesharing is often suggested as a solution to this issue, stakeholder input indicated it can cause problems for both employees and employers if the rideshare driver is unavailable due to sickness or vacation. In that case, employees may face lost wages and employers must deal with multiple absences. Potential solutions should take into account the need for consistent scheduling and access to rides as well as addressing the root financial or logistical needs for those seeking to gain access to a vehicle.
Another potential long-term solution would be to increase the number of jobs located within walking distance of the rural population centers, thereby reducing the need for a vehicle during the daily commute.
5) Housing and Childcare
Although these issues do not necessarily constitute transportation challenges, the lack of affordable housing and childcare options can complicate or prevent access to employment. In some cases, an employment center may be accessible from a transportation perspective, but the transit or work schedule might not allow for childcare drop-offs/pickups. Similarly, if housing costs are not in line with wages, those with limited transportation options might be forced to choose between a roof over their heads or a job. Local land use decisions may also fail to take the housing-transit connection into account, leaving transportation operators in a reactive, rather than proactive, role.
These concerns may fall outside of the scope of achievable solutions identified in this plan. However, it is crucial to note the interconnected nature of the issues. Without considering housing and childcare needs, even a perfectly balanced array of transportation solutions will fail to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.
6) Coordination gaps
The issues related to transportation and employment in the rural areas are further complicated by a lack of coordination among relevant agencies and constituents. Bringing together the interests of economic development, public transit, transportation, employment services, education, planning, local municipalities, and vulnerable populations is no small task. Indeed, this is not an issue unique to the region; across the U.S., the field of mobility management continues to grow and evolve in recognition of the importance of providing coordination to identify and implement potential solutions.
As mentioned previously, administration and funding can constitute a barrier to increased coordination. Government agencies are limited to specific geographic areas of influence; as such, the potential for projects and programs often ends at the border, leaving few options for workers and employers that span more than one municipality, region, or state.
Although the list of transportation needs and barriers can seem overwhelming, there are also several promising opportunities within the region.
1) Merger of Transit Providers
In February 2023, GGFT and CDTA, in conjunction with the City of Glens Falls, proposed a merger between the two transit providers. This proposal was approved by the Warren County Board of Supervisors in May 2023.
Although it is too soon to predict how transit service may change in the A/GFTC region as a result of this merger, there is a possibility of an eventual increase in the available resources for transit marketing, technological innovation, and new service modalities. Specifically, CDTA will be undertaking a Transit Development Plan, which could take into account the merger and identify opportunities for service efficiencies. In addition, the merger will raise awareness of transit issues in general, which can build support and engagement in the community.
A merger may also result in stronger transit connections between the Glens Falls area and the greater capital district. Although this may not directly benefit rural residents, it represents a step forward for connectivity within the region as a whole.
2) Funding Availability
Recent expansion of transportation funding has increased financial opportunities through FTA and FHWA. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, many established transit programs have seen increased funding allocations. In addition, new programs such as FTA s Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) are creating additional opportunities specifically for rural transit access. Cross-cutting projects which are targeted towards not only workforce issues, but increased mobility of seniors, low-income individuals/families, or the disabled communities, would likely be very competitive.
3) Technological Advances
Ongoing development and advances in data and technology have increased the availability of innovative transit solutions. This includes vendor-based programs and platforms, which reduce the need for small transit organizations to take on the burden of complicated, expensive technology. This, in turn, creates opportunities for dynamic routing/scheduling, which can make more efficient use of limited resources such as vehicles and drivers. Systems which rely on smaller vehicles also reduce the need for CDL drivers.
4) Collaboration and Innovation
Stakeholder input revealed that some employers are willing to explore collaborative and innovative solutions to transportation issues. This creates potential for private or public-private partnerships; not only do pooled resources usually stretch farther, but successful collaboration can increase the likelihood of obtaining grant funding under certain circumstances.
D. Geographic priority areas
Although the needs, barriers, and opportunities listed above apply to the whole region, certain areas are more affected than others. In addition, the specific combination of factors in each location may influence the viability of potential transportation solutions.
1. Granville: This Village has a very high Transportation Cost Burden as well as high percentages in terms of lack of vehicle access and low educational attainment. However, Granville is also home to several large employers and has a dense population center. At one point the Village was able to maintain a limited local transit service, which could indicate the potential for success for future efforts. There is also a fair amount of reciprocity in terms of workers traveling to and from Whitehall, which could indicate potential for services shared between the two villages.
2. Warrensburg: In terms of access to vehicles, educational attainment, transportation cost burden, worker outflow, population, and stakeholder input, Warrensburg represents a good candidate for workforce transportation programs. As with Whitehall, there have been numerous efforts to establish transportation services in Warrensburg in the last decade. GGFT has successfully expanded the seasonal trolley service to the hamlet in the past; however, this is not a year-round solution. There have also been efforts to establish a private livery/transit hybrid service, which never came to fruition. Warrensburg faces a specific challenge in that the worker outflow is relatively diffuse, with workers traveling not only to the core urban area but to Lake George, Bolton, and Chestertown. The hamlet also has significant worker inflow, which suggests that residents in the surrounding area would require travel into Warrensburg. Services in this area might also call for the inclusion of Bolton Landing and/or Lake George; if so, the high number of seasonal positions should be taken into account.
3. Whitehall: The Village of Whitehall stands out in terms of having a high working age population, low educational attainment, high numbers of limited access to vehicles, overall economic disadvantage, high worker outflow, dense population, and stakeholder input. Historically, this area was the focus of a pilot program which expanded GGFT routes along Route 4 to the Village of Whitehall. Fixed route transit did not prove to be viable in the long term and the pilot was terminated over a decade ago. However, this underscores the regional need for transportation solutions focused on this area. As stated previously, plans for future transit or transportation services should integrate cross-border travel into Vermont.
4. Lake Luzerne: With a high transportation disadvantage, high TCB, and relatively high percentage of working age population, this hamlet is also relatively isolated from the rest of the county, which could limit potential transportation solutions. Additional analysis which includes Corinth and possibly Greenfield may be warranted.
5. Pottersville/North Creek/Chestertown: These three hamlets have high transportation cost burdens; North Creek in particular also has a relatively high percentage of individuals without access to a vehicle. In addition, there is a minor, but discernable, pattern of reciprocity for work trips between the three hamlets, which might indicate the potential for services in this area. The heavy reliance on seasonal jobs may pose an additional layer of complication.
6. Greenwich/Cambridge/Salem: These three population centers are relatively isolated from the rest of the County. Despite their proximity to each other, there is not a significant discernable pattern of commutation between the three. However, there is some overlap among the outflow destinations. For example, both Salem and Greenwich send workers to the core urban area and Saratoga, while both Salem and Cambridge send workers to Bennington and Greenwich. There may be potential for certain service modes to strengthen these linkages, thereby increasing opportunities for workers in southern Washington County.
7. Fort Ann and Argyle: Although these Villages are not in proximity to one another, they share characteristic inflow/outflow patterns. In both cases, there is a strong outflow towards the core urban area, as well as a discernable inflow in the other direction. Depending on the service mode (such as commuter lines) there may be opportunities to strengthen these linkages in both directions.
V. Summary of Potential Transportation Options
There are a wide variety of potential transportation service models and initiatives which could be considered. This report includes as many options as could be identified. Relevant examples have been provided where possible; in particular, initiatives from within rural areas in New York State have been highlighted, since these solutions are more likely to be feasible in the A/GFTC region.
A. Fixed-route service:
This refers to transit service provided on a repetitive, fixed schedule basis along a specific route with vehicles stopping to pick up and deliver passengers to specific locations. Each fixed route service trip serves the same origins and destinations. In general, the population density for effective fixed-route service is 2,000 people per square mile, or 3 people per acre. GGFT operated fixed-route services in the urban core area with a combination of fixed stop locations and flag-down service.
* Fixed-route commuter services or shuttles allow for fixed-route transit to origin or destination clusters which may not otherwise meet density thresholds, such as industrial parks, college campuses, or isolated hamlets. These services are generally operated 1-2 times in the morning and evening. Although this may accommodate workers with traditional 9-5 schedules, it does not support off-peak shift work.
B. Flexible-route service:
This refers to transit service within a determined area which may deviate from set routes or points. Options include:
* Route Deviation: the vehicle may deviate from the scheduled route to stop at locations within a defined distance (for example, mile or 2 blocks) of the route. When this is done, the bus must return to the route where it deviated to continue service. Flexible routes are appropriate in areas where there is some clustering of origins and destinations, but not a high enough population density to support fixed route services. This service can support employment trips provided both origin and destination are located within the service area; however, timing may be less predictable than with fixed-route service.
* Checkpoint Service: a hybrid service in which vehicles serve designated stops at scheduled times but operate in demand-responsive mode between stops. Spontaneous travelers use the service by boarding and disembarking from buses at the designated checkpoint stops without advance reservation. Riders may access a demand-responsive service outside of checkpoints with advance reservation. There is no designated route between checkpoints. Since sufficient time must be built into the schedule to allow for the deviations between checkpoints, the overall running times between checkpoints are longer than they would be on a fixed route, but checkpoint stops are predictable. This service model can support employment trips provided both origin and destination are located within the service area; however, timing may be less predictable than with fixed-route service.
* Zone Service: provides limited transit access over a large area that could not otherwise support service. Zone service can assign fixed-route, demand-response, or other type of service to certain zones on certain days. Zone service is ideal for trips dedicated to occasional appointments or shopping but is not usually able to accommodate employment trips due to decreased frequency of the service.
C. Demand Response:
In this system, vehicles do not operate over a fixed route or on a fixed schedule; passengers must request a trip by contacting the transit agency or using a website or phone app.
* Subscription/Vanpool: passengers request repetitive rides on an ongoing basis. This works well for clustered origins or destinations and low daily frequency of demand (1-2 trips a day), making it a good option for employment trips. Vanpool services may also qualify for tax benefits for commuters. However, this service usually does not accommodate flexibility in terms of emergencies or schedule deviations.
* Advance Reservation: allows requests with a requirement for advance notice (3-72 hours is a common range). This can accommodate low-density origins and destinations in areas of low demand.
* Real-time Scheduling: operates similar to a taxi or ride-hailing service. Works best with high density areas and short trip distances. Allows for flexibility for emergencies or schedule deviations; however, trip timing may be unpredictable.
D. Microtransit/Mobility on Demand:
Similar to demand response service, microtransit is operated with smaller vehicles and may be contracted through a vendor. Mobile technology provides dynamic routing and curb-to-curb or corner-to-corner service; vehicles are usually vans or minivans, which can be operated without a CDL license. Many microtransit vendors will work directly with employers or on a subscription basis. For community-wide service, a mix-and-match approach can offer a variety of demand response types.
Also known as carpooling, this option encourages employees to share rides to work. This often occurs on an ad-hoc basis; however, employers or other agencies can opt to proactively facilitate this activity. The drawback to this approach is that employees who are dependent on the service may be unable to get to work if the driver is sick, on vacation, or otherwise unable to drive. In addition, jobs with flexible scheduling, such as retail and service positions, can make it difficult to arrange rides consistently. Ridesharing can also occur with employees of different businesses. This can be facilitated through individual coordination or with ridematching services such as 511NY. The A/GFTC area already has a dedicated rideshare portal, which also includes information regarding transit, traffic conditions, and park-and-ride lots.
F. Commuter Incentives:
This option includes direct or indirect subsidies to employees to reduce the cost of commuting and/or promote transit use. This can include a wide range of initiatives such as providing gas cards, ridesharing incentives, bus passes, car sharing, guaranteed ride home programs, or related perks. This can provide additional support to transportation-insecure employees who may face occasional issues getting to work. Since these initiatives may not provide direct transportation services, they are most useful as supplements to other programs.
* Wheels to Work Program: A transportation assistance program designed to support income eligible households in acquiring safe, reliable transportation so adults may get to and from work. The program helps low-income adults by coordinating the purchase of affordable/used vehicles, offering financial assistance for vehicle repairs, and general financial management skills. In some cases, these types of programs are offered exclusively to families with children. Although Warren County had a Wheels to Work Program, it was discontinued about ten years ago.
G. Volunteer Driver programs:
These systems rely on the services of volunteers to provide transportation which is scheduled in advance. In most cases, volunteers drive their own vehicles and are reimbursed for mileage. For this type of system to succeed, there must be an agency which provides oversight of the drivers, facilitates scheduling, and manages the funding sources and reimbursement process. Finding volunteers to participate is often difficult, especially with regards to trips on weekends and after business hours. This type of service is most useful to provide occasional trips to medical appointments or shopping, rather than regularly-scheduled work trips. However, in theory it could be useful for occasional work-related trips, as long as the rides can be scheduled in advance.
H. Transportation Service Option Comparison
Given the wide range of service modes and program options, this plan attempts to provide additional clarity regarding which options are most applicable for workforce transportation. This includes:
* Minimum required population density (high, medium, or low)
* Whether the service is appropriate to public (municipal), private, or public-private operation
* What type of trip demand is accommodated
* Whether the service accommodates variable origin and destination points
* The timing predictability
* Whether the service can accommodate schedule flexibility
* Overall determination of applicability for workforce transportation (high, medium, low)
Additional detailed analysis would be required to determine the viability of these options within specific priority areas of the A/GFTC region.
1) Options for Implementation/Operation
There are a number of public and private options to establish and operate transportation services. Some considerations include:
* Public agencies: In addition to transit operators, there are several public organizations which could potentially operate or manage transportation services. Indeed, some agencies already offer transportation service to specific groups such as seniors, veterans, and the disabled. A public operational model offers a number of benefits, including access to federal and state grants and broad applicability to the public at large. There may be opportunities to coordinate and collaborate with existing human service transportation providers as well. However, there may be geographic or other limitations which may pose difficulties to establish services that extend outside of the region. Service modalities which are more suited to public administration include fixed-route/commuter service, demand response/microtransit, and commuter incentives such as Wheels to Work.
* Private organizations: Businesses, chambers of commerce, or similar private organizations can also operate transportation services. In terms of benefits, private operational models are often nimbler and more flexible than public agencies, which means services can be set up and respond to changes in demand more quickly. However, access to grant funding is limited. In addition, employer-based transportation services only benefit the workers at that specific company rather than the region at large. Service modalities which are more suited to private operation include vanpool, vendor-based microtransit, enhanced ridesharing, and commuter incentives such as gas cards, transportation stipends, or bus tokens.
* Public-private partnerships: This option can tap into the strengths of both public and private organizations, allowing for a wide array of service modes. However, this requires a significant amount of coordination to maintain communication and collaboration. One option to foster this type of organizational structure would be a Transportation Management Association (see sidebar). The creation of an agency dedicated specifically to providing transportation oversight, management, and coordination could focus regional efforts and reduce inefficiencies.
VI. Next Steps/Priorities
1) Improve coordination and identify opportunities for collaboration and implementation.
For decades, various public and private agencies have attempted to increase coordination and expand transportation options, whether directed towards workforce issues, human service transportation, or public transit in general. However, these efforts have been hampered by legal limitations on authority, lack of resources or funding, or competing priorities. Given the opportunities afforded by the proposed transit merger, increased funding for transportation, and a renewed focus on economic development, the time is ripe to identify a champion to carry forth the priorities of the region. This could take the form of a staff position within an existing agency or a dedicated institution such as a Transportation Management Association (see sidebar).
Regardless of the administrative details, a key priority of this coordination should be to maintain momentum and continue to keep communication channels open, especially between the transit agencies, the business community, and the various public entities involved.
2) Identify location(s) for priority pilot projects and pursue needed analysis/collaboration for implementation.
As noted in section IV, there are several possible transportation options which may prove viable in the region, pending additional detailed analysis. This plan also identified priority locations based on various demographic, economic, and geographic factors. However, one factor which has not been accounted for is buy-in from the local municipal and business community. This participation will be crucial to take the next step in analysis and potential project/program development. Reaching out to these stakeholders to determine the level of interest should occur prior to developing a scope of work for implementation.
By combining the results of the geographic priority analysis and the transit option analysis, two possible locations for different pilot projects have been identified. These represent the locations with the most pressing needs while also creating the greatest opportunities for successful implementation of the identified modalities.
* Village of Granville: Employer-based Microtransit or Vanpool
As stated previously, the Village of Granville contains several large employers, imports a significant number of employees from other areas of the region, and is in itself a dense population center. In addition, the demographic and economic data provide strong evidence of the need for additional transportation services. These qualities, when combined, create a ripe opportunity for an employer-based microtransit or vanpool service pilot project.
In terms of next steps for implementation, a lead agency would need to be identified, such as the Regional Planning Board or another organization (see item 1 above). The lead agency should begin by canvassing large employers to determine the level of interest. Next, a Request for Information (RFI) could be developed in partnership with relevant stakeholders such as A/GFTC and CDTA. Pending the results of the RFI, funding could then be identified and sought through appropriate channels and/or public-private partnerships. A contract with the vendor would then be held by the lead agency to provide the proposed transit service. This service model is becoming more and more common throughout the US as more vendor-based transportation providers are established.
* Warrensburg/Central Warren County: Community-based Microtransit/Mobility Management
The central portion of Warren County, centered roughly around Warrensburg but extending east to Bolton Landing and south to Lake George, also represents an area of opportunity. As stated previously, the demographic and economic conditions in this area speak to a clear need for additional transportation services in general, and specifically regarding workforce transportation. In addition, municipal leaders and community stakeholders in Bolton Landing and Warrensburg have repeatedly sought out opportunities for expanded transit service, which might indicate a high level of community buy-in.
In terms of implementation, this area will be more complicated to address; the lack of large employers and the high number of seasonal jobs may make it difficult to identify year-round service hubs. Currently, the overwhelming majority of employees in Warrensburg and Bolton Landing travel south to the core urban area for work, though there is some cross-pollination between Warrensburg and Bolton Landing. Lake George Village currently has year-round transit service to Glens Falls, so theoretically potential workers from Warrensburg and Bolton Landing could use this existing service, if they had means to access it. However, previous and ongoing trolley service to these communities does not address the need for year-round employment transportation. In addition, while the scheduling of the trollies provides some support for a south-to-north commute (i.e., workers from Glens Falls and Lake George traveling to Bolton Landing), the reverse is not necessarily the case.
To address these needs, a thorough service planning analysis will be necessary. This should involve the lead agency, community stakeholders, CDTA, and large employers at a minimum. It may be possible to support a significant number of workers simply by providing a robust and ongoing rideshare system to complement year-round transit in Lake George. Or it might also be beneficial to craft an RFI for a community-based microtransit service which could provide rides to/from Glens Falls or Lake George in the morning/evening commute, while also providing local rides for general transportation needs in Warrensburg and Bolton Landing during the day. In either case, a dedicated service planning analysis would be needed to identify opportunities and solutions.
3) Explore opportunities to improve transit service with the CDTA/GGFT merger.
The merger of CDTA and GGFT will not result in immediate changes to the established transit service in the region. In the short term, CDTA will be undertaking a Transit Development Plan beginning in spring 2023. As part of that effort, the needs of the A/GFTC region should be included so that any future service changes take local needs into consideration. Ultimately, the merger may create opportunities for improved inter-regional connections as well as more expansive marketing/education and newer technologies such as real-time transit service mapping.
4) Support the re-establishment of the Wheels-to-Work program in Warren County and explore expansion to Washington County.
Even with adequate transit options to rural areas, there will always be gaps due to lack of private vehicles. The Wheels-to-Work program is an effective way to help residents to purchase and maintain their own vehicle. This results in direct benefits to the resident and their family, as well as benefits to public agencies in terms of deferred assistance. As of early 2023, Warren County has already expressed interest in re-establishing this program. This effort should be supported. In addition, there may be opportunities to derive helpful lessons learned which could be applied to determine whether a similar program would be viable in Washington County.
5) Strengthen the land use and transit connection.
An ongoing issue within the urban and urban-adjacent areas in the region is the lack of coordination between local land use decisions and public transportation. In particular, local planning boards, zoning boards, and other municipal officials often fail to consider public transit in the land use planning and decision-making process. This disconnect often leaves the transit operator in a reactionary position, striving to accommodate the expansion of housing, retail, and employment development in areas which may be difficult or impossible to service. Another common issue is that transit provisions such as bus shelters, bike racks, and pedestrian connections are left out of development proposals, even within the areas serviced by transit routes. The lack of first-mile/last-mile links is a barrier to increased transit ridership. Without comfortable, convenient facilities and easy pedestrian connections, there is little incentive for residents and employees to choose transit over other transportation options. Although this affects the urban core area more than the rural areas, supporting a strong transit service through sound land use planning benefits the region as a whole.
To that end, it is recommended that outreach and training for local land use boards and municipal officials be developed. This could include educational websites, fact sheets, and/or training modules. Where possible, certification for education credits should be provided to fulfill requirements for planning and zoning board training. This effort could be led by MPO, RPB, or County planning staff or consultants in partnership with CDTA.