Amsterdam High School students on CDTA bus lines will travel for free

AMSTERDAM — High school students in Amsterdam will no longer have to rush for a ride starting this fall as part of the Capital District Transportation Authority’s universal access program offering free bus service to any destination.

“This is unlimited access to our service,” CDTA CEO Carm Basile announced Monday at Amsterdam High School. “Getting to and from school is a no-brainer, that’s the number one goal, but think about after-school opportunities.”

The Greater Amsterdam School District has been heavily involved in the years-long effort to bring CDTA bus service to Montgomery County with local, state and federal leaders. This work paid off this year with the launch of four bus lines in Amsterdam on August 28.

Three routes that intersect around neighborhoods in Amsterdam and along major thoroughfares to provide fast connections within the city and near Schenectady will operate seven days a week. An express route to Schenectady and Albany will operate five days a week.

The service was developed to reliably provide affordable transportation to residents of all ages while expanding access to opportunity, especially for students.

“This one is not possible without the vision of the Amsterdam School District,” Basile said.

A $4.2 million annual allocation secured in the state budget to expand CDTA service in the county with support from Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and Senator Michelle Hinchey, D -Saugerties, was needed to launch the new routes.

According to Superintendent Richard Ruberti, an annual investment of approximately $700,000 from GASD will cover the cost of providing free public transportation to 550 Amsterdam High School students initially representing about half of the school population. District transportation services are eligible for approximately 90% state aid, which can be applied to CDTA services.

“Amsterdam has made quite a commitment,” acknowledged Ruberti. “As a superintendent, you see what you can do to help the lives of students, their families, and the area you work in. For me, that was something incredibly important.”

High school students living within a mile of CDTA bus routes will be mailed Navigator Bus Passes allowing free rides before the fall. Students outside this area can apply for the district’s free bus passes to access extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and other opportunities. The district will be billed based on actual usage tracked by CDTA.

“We know that not every student who gets a pass will use it, so we will be able to track the usage of each card given out to see if we need to buy more or redistribute them to students who might use them,” Ruberti said.

Eligible students will receive information about bus routes, pickup times, and behavioral expectations from the CDTA before the start of the school year. Any behavioral issues would be referred to the school district for discipline.

Officials hope the convenience of taking climate-controlled buses to school will boost footfall in the neighborhood where many students walk year-round. Several morning runs will give children who miss the bus another chance to get to school on time.

“Sometimes teenagers don’t get out of bed right away,” Ruberti said.

Staff at the Creative Connections Clubhouse are already encouraging children and families to take advantage of public transportation when buses start rolling next month, according to John Sumpter, director of youth outreach.

“Having CDTA creates a viable option for our residents to get to where they need to go in the city and beyond in the Capital Region,” Sumpter said. “Some of our residents cannot afford to go to the Route 30 area to do their shopping.

A map of bus routes through the city has already been posted at the youth-at-risk pavilion. After installing its own shelter for students taking school buses outside the association, the clubhouse will become a stop on the CDTA road. Initially, the stops will be indicated by signs and in the long term, the CDTA plans to install shelters along the routes.

Sumpter agreed the new service should be a boon to getting kids to school safely. Even GASD staff will benefit from being able to ride CDTA buses at a reduced price under the universal access program, according to Ruberti.

Families visiting high school or district offices during the day will also have the option of taking CDTA buses which will use the campus as a turnaround and rest area. Transportation staff will be able to access the school washrooms through security at the main entrance.

“It’s a great day for our students and our families,” said Ruberti. “We believe this is going to provide opportunities that we didn’t even foresee in the future.”

“Our goal is to connect people to economic opportunity, whether it’s a young child, a teenager, someone looking for their first job, or an elderly person who just needs a way to get around the community safely and conveniently. That’s what this service is designed for,” Basile said.

Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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