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VanpoolMore Rochesterians carpool to work than you might think. According to the U.S. Census, 8 percent of workers in the region carpooled in 2013. That’s about 42,000 people. That’s more than take the bus to work.

That’s probably why Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority is studying the idea of a “vanpool.” RGRTA would contract with an operator who has a fleet of SUVs or vans. A designated passenger would have possession of the van and pick up people on the way to work. There are typically 5 to 12 people in a vanpool.

In Dallas, passengers split the charge of $335 a month. The service picks up insurance and vehicle costs. There are also tax incentives for commuters.

The census shows long commutes are not an issue for Rochester carpoolers; it doesn’t take them much longer to get to work. But Rochester’s carpoolers are poor, as two-thirds earn less than $35,000. Only 8 percent of carpoolers don’t have a vehicle available, suggesting a family member may need the car or they want to save on gas and car maintenance. Many carpoolers work in education, health care, social services and the service industry, according to the census.

The census didn’t ask if carpoolers how much they have to pay for parking at work. That’s an issue for workers at downtown garages and the University of Rochester.

RGRTA wants to know what you think of the vanpooling concept in this survey.

In a statement CEO Bill Carpenter said, “Transit agencies in the U.S. are finding that vanpool services can complement existing bus routes and expand transit services by offering a substitute method of travel to common destinations. The purpose of this study is to determine the feasibility of a vanpool program capable of linking commuters from similar origins to similar destinations throughout the Rochester area.”

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Assemblyman David Gantt’s bill would allow self-driving cars.

– This is what the new state senate boss is saying when he’s not saying anything.

What’s really ailing America’s cities?

– A Rochester charter school is under scrutiny for being too white and too middle class.

Buffalo only gives its schools $70 million. (Meanwhile, Rochester, a smaller city, is required by law to give its schools $119 million.)

– Rochester is slated to get a “pedal tour” this summer. It’s a bike party bus thing.

– Syracuse is getting a dinner-movie theater. (I wonder if this would work at Midtown.)

Bus Selfie

Bus Selfie

A few days ago, I decided to take the bus downtown for jury duty. There’s a bus stop on Bay Street that’s only a block from my house. I figured spending $2 a day for round-trip bus fare beats $8 in parking. The RTS website indicated the trip would only take a half hour, door to door.

First, I had to find $2 in cash. I rarely have cash. For this trip, I not only needed cash, but I needed exact change. Fortunately, a friend gave me a couple singles the night before to save me the hassle of going to an ATM. It would be great if RTS allowed people to buy rides on their smartphones or swipe a credit card.

The RTS Bus App told me when the bus would arrive in real time. I was concerned about news of canceled morning trips, but my bus was on schedule. It arrived on time, to the minute. The ride downtown was quick, even with multiple stops.

The “Plan My Trip” feature on the RTS website indicated I could stay on the Route 39 bus for a few more stops to get off at State and Main, the closest stop to the Hall of Justice. At the transit center, the bus driver told me I had to come to the front and pay another $1. The additional half mile is considered a transfer. That struck me as ridiculous. The implication is that people coming from the eastern part of the city to the west side of downtown have to pay extra to get closer to their destinations and vice versa. It’s also not technically a transfer if you’re staying on the same bus. The bus driver was kind enough to let the extra buck slide, but for this trip only. The policy of using the transit center as THE central stop flies in the face of how people actually travel downtown. If this is how RTS wants to play it, there should be some kind of free downtown shuttle for people in this situation.

In the afternoon for my trip home, I chose to walk to the transit center to save the extra dollar. While I don’t mind walking, that extra half mile could be a deterrent for those who have mobility issues. It would also be a pain in bad weather. I’ve since learned there is an all-day pass available for $3, which makes that transfer 50 cents. This is probably the best option.

When I got to the transit center around 4 p.m., I was astonished at the number of teenagers. I was aware hundreds of kids use the transit center in the afternoon, but I was still shocked. Teens appeared to outnumber adults 30 to 1. The media has reported on the occasional violent incident and unruly behavior at the transit center, but I felt 100 percent safe. There were visible police officers and security guards. The teens were very well-behaved. My trip home was fast and uneventful.

Despite the fact the transit center was orderly, I can’t say it’s pleasant to be in an environment that resembles a high school cafeteria on steroids. The volume of teens at that hour was a big turnoff. I’m not sure why they were all there at once. I’m not sure why there were not a lot of adult passengers at this hour to provide more balance. It’s also very easy to see how a small incident could create a big problem. The city, school district and bus company are working on this issue. I think it’s great young people are using public transit and I would hate to see them restricted. This situation, however, seems untenable.

In summary, I’ll be using the bus for the remainder of my jury duty. It’s quick and doesn’t require navigating traffic and garages or paying for parking. Even though the transfer situation caught me off-guard, the bus fare is pretty darn cheap, especially compared to other cities. I would definitely recommend trying out RTS if you live on a bus line.

Related: Check out this ode to the Buffalo bus system. 

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Lessons from Baltimore: If the Bills want a downtown stadium, mass transit is key.

– Why would the company that profits from red light camera tickets develop an app to tell you where the cameras are located? Money and data.

– This is how Chattanooga is remaking itself with fast broadband. (Come on, Rochester!)

– The NCAA wanted Jim Boeheim to be a policeman, but that’s never been his style.

– NBC would be insane to let Brian Williams return.

– ‘Snowiest place in America’ title brings international fame to tiny Upstate village.

– Baby Dorothy? Vintage baby names are making a comeback.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Several times this week, large groups of teenagers have gathered on Main Street before school. Fights broke out, with kids running from corner to corner to witness the action.

It was chaos.

This is nothing new, as the city has struggled to keep order on Main Street before and after school. When Midtown Plaza closed, huge crowds of unsupervised youth turned Main St. into their playground as they waited for buses. Some went downtown just to hang out.

On Friday, 13WHAM News recorded what appeared to be the tail end of police regaining order. Police and students were running around. Police found a pellet gun on one student. They pepper sprayed a number of teens.

The video has concerned people, who say the police casually pepper sprayed teens. Some of the teens appeared to be doing absolutely nothing wrong.Pepper spray is a use of force and it’s appropriate to ask questions. It’s very important to note we did not see what happened before this video.

Here’s the perspective of the police: The officers’ primary goal was to get the kids on their way to school before another fight broke out. You can’t have hundreds of students running up and down Main Street when they should be in school. You also can’t have them standing around, away from their bus stops, after they were told to move along. Three kids turns into 10 turns into 50 and then the problem is back.

Officers’ use of pepper spray on students is fairly common in school settings when large groups of students gather to watch fights. It’s a means to disperse crowds. Certainly, some kids who were not part of the melee can get sprayed. But cops will tell you it’s way more dangerous to not break up the crowd than use the pepper spray.

Over the last few years, the school district and police department have downplayed what is happening on Main Street. Meanwhile, officers are placed in a tough position. Tourists, businesses and workers are disgusted. Students who get involved in these melees could be in danger.

I thought the bus company and school district mostly solved the problem of Main Street fights with restrictions on bus passes and more direct routes. It appears the only thing that will get this under control is the new bus terminal that’s coming in 2015. I don’t think an enclosed facility with security will be as problematic, because kids won’t be as free to run around causing problems. Midtown Plaza did not tolerate misbehavior and did not experience regular fights.

What did you think of the video and how police handled the situation?

Links of the Day:

– Hickey Freeman’s CEO says the bankruptcy plan will save jobs, as long as Authentic Brands is the winning bidder.

– North American Brewery’s CEO says the purchase of the company will be a good thing. NAB owns the Genesee brand.

– “A waterfront stadium is a bad idea on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin,” writes a Buffalo News columnist.

– The Saudis are building a huge mosque. Preservationists are worried historic sites could be destroyed in the process.

Syracuse is about to open a downtown bus terminal that will remove “large crowds of people waiting behind walls of noisy buses” from a nearby intersection. The 22-bay facility cost nearly $19 million.  The intersection that served as the transfer hub will soon be home to upscale apartments and restaurants.

The Post-Standard reports:

It’s a dramatic gentrification with few critics.

Nearly every group affected by the change – from the mostly poor and black bus riders to the mostly white bankers and lawyers who work nearby – agree the move is long overdue. The buses and people have far outgrown the intersection, pushing their way into street traffic, privately-owned bathrooms and sidewalk storefronts that make for an unsafe and unwelcome mess.

The riders, who must now wait for the bus outdoors in one of the country’s snowiest cities, are eager to move to an off-street, covered shelter where people can wait indoors. The businesses, some of whom have complained openly about violence, intimidation and unruliness from the crowds, are ready to enjoy more orderly stoops for their staffs and clients.

Sound familiar?

Rendering of RGRTA Terminal

The Liberty Pole bus transfer point is often a chaotic scene. The buses will be removed once RGRTA completes its bus station on Mortimer St. Construction just started. The sale of the Sibley Building will likely bring gentrification, with apartments and restaurants. Midtown’s development has the potential to do the same.

Some critics of the Syracuse station said the city is “herding” the poor to another area of downtown to make way for the rich. But supporters say the bus riders desperately need shelter and bathrooms and a safe and pleasant transportation experience. The Syracuse bus station seems to have generated far less controversy than Rochester’s project.

Rochester should monitor how things go in Syracuse.

Links of the Day:

– Energy companies are going door to door soliciting new customers, promising better rates. The state Public Service Commission is under pressure to release price comparisons to help consumers. The industry opposes the idea.

Should power lines be buried?

– Bystanders wounded by New York City police in the Empire State Building incident will likely sue – and lose.

Reporters, why are you in Tampa?

– A Democrat and Chronicle columnist suggests naming the Seneca Park Zoo lions after Maggie and Louise. After all, politicians want their names on everything. Why not smelly zoo animals? Nestor Ramos even suggests getting one of the lion’s manes cut like Maggie’s hair. Aside from the total lack of balance (Louise was thrown in for good measure at the end), I found the piece juvenile and a tad sexist. Lion imagery invoked the “catfight” cliche. Would this column have been written about male politicians?

Breaking up by text message is hard to do.

Courtesy, RochesterSubway.com, Mike Governale

 

RGRTA is building its new bus station on the site of the old RKO Palace. In probably the most shocking and horrific act of “urban renewal,” the ornate theater was torn down in the 1960s to make way for hotels that were never built. My dad kept his commemorative booklet of the theater. Read it and weep.

During the initial phase of construction, RGRTA has unearthed parts of the old theater, according to the Rochester Subway blog.

“We knew it was there. It wasn’t a surprise to find to find it,” said RGRTA’s Myriam Contiguglia. “Over the years the site has been disturbed.”

Let the nostalgia commence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Links of the Day:

– Want to get an idea of what RGRTA’s new bus station will be like? Check out the one that is opening in Syracuse.

– A Herkimer County town “built by guns” is worried its Remington factory could split if New York continues to get tougher on firearms.

– Nineteen people were shot overnight in Chicago, which is in the midst of one of its most bloody years.

– There aren’t a lot of women firefighters, but a Buffalo firehouse found itself staffed entirely by women.

A Penfield love story.

Can we fix the Sibley clock?

The suburbanization of jobs means public transportation is not an option for many workers.

The Brookings Institution found only two-thirds of jobs in the Rochester metropolitan region are in places served by buses. Even worse, fewer than one-third of residents can get to a job within 90 minutes on a bus. The study found people have an easier time getting to jobs in the city than in the suburbs.

Brookings did a similar study last year showing the disconnect between public transit and jobs. If people don’t have access to jobs, they their options for employment and upward mobility are limited. Companies also risk not having access to a wider pool of labor.

The Rochester Genesee Transportation Authority has worked with suburban employers on routes. Some companies and nursing homes pay RGRTA a share of the cost. But RGRTA has been clear that if a route isn’t economically feasible, it won’t run. That’s provoked a lot of criticism from riders, but RGRTA is also solidly running in the black and has maintained fares at $1.

The authors recommend locating jobs in denser areas and improving access to suburban jobs. The study also suggests incentivizing companies to locate in areas served by public transit. Government and business should talk about jobs access when relocation issues come up.

Links of the Day:

– Leo Roth brings up an old debate (if you listen to Bob Matthews’ show) about whether Rochester has too many sports teams. If the market will bear these teams, who cares?

A former state lawmaker says Cuomo should go for it in 2016.

– Take note, Rochester Police Department. Courts are increasingly skeptical of “stop and frisk,” also known as “Cool Down.”

– This might be the most obnoxious thing you read today. A young woman laments being so successful so young. And her idol is Carrie Bradshaw. Don’t worry, baby, your hard times will come.

– Last night I struck up a conversation with a British man who says he holds the patent on armored underwear worn by soldiers. The items are made by people with disabilities at the Seneca Army Depot. Who knew?

Links of the Day:

– Trailways and city officials celebrated the opening of a modular structure on Central Ave. near the train station to serve intercity bus passengers. I mention the fact it’s a pre-fab building because it’s supposed to be temporary.

If the city can secure federal funding, it would like to build a $26 million intermodal facility on the site. The facility would replace the aging, unattractive Amtrak station and serve intercity buses.

Even though the Trailways building is supposed to be temporary, the city spent $1.4 million moving Trailways and Greyhound out of Midtown to these new digs.

But this is site where temporary can quickly become permanent. The Amtrak station was built as a temporary structure – in 1978. I reported for 13WHAM News today:

Trailways owner Eugene Berardi does not view the new station as temporary. As for the intermodal station, he said, “Some day it may (happen), maybe not in my lifetime.”

Rendering of RGRTA Terminal

Meantime, RGRTA plans to break ground in three weeks on its own transit facility. Mayor Tom Richards said studies showed train and intercity bus passengers were not reliant on RGRTA buses, but there will be shuttles between the two facilities.

We’d have a truly intermodal facility, combining rail, intercity and intracity buses if the train tracks were not so far north of downtown. Yes, it’s a quick walk. But the train station is separated from Main St. by a virtual “no man’s land” of a highway and vacant lots. It’s too bad we couldn’t find a way to bridge the gap.

In the meantime, we will have an intercity bus terminal, a intracity bus terminal and a train station. All aboard.

– The New York Daily News hails the governor’s support of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in an editorial and a hilarious cartoon.

– Men are looked at suspiciously if they’re alone in parks where children are playing. Now they can’t shop in the children’s section of a bookstore.

– Chicago teachers are voting tomorrow to strike.

– There’s no such thing as a concert selling out 20,000 tickets in 30 seconds.

– I’m not a huge fan of commencement addresses, but this one is worth reading.

– Half the face of a man who’s been driving a truck for 28 years has prematurely aged.

More Links of the Day:

– We haven’t heard much about the planned downtown transit center in a while. Don’t think that’s because it’s on the back burner. The Rochester Regional Transportation Authority plans to break ground this spring on the $47 million enclosed bus facility on Mortimer and St. Paul streets.

Mark IV, owner of the high-end apartment building next door, has so far been unsuccessful in its legal attempts to halt the “bus barn.”

Tuesday night, there will be a public meeting to discuss the interior design. Aside from bus bays and bathrooms, what else will there be? There could be room for a police office, light retail and a coffee stand. Perhaps there will be amenities such as outlets for mobile devices.

The transit system carries 50,000 riders a day. Main Street functions as a de facto bus station. There are no bathrooms and riders are exposed to the elements.

Many people are worried the rowdy Liberty Pole youth will make their way to the bus station. The Liberty Pole is an outdoor area with no security. The bus station will be very different. But any discussion of the interior might want to include the atmosphere and enforcement of rules.

The bus station is expected to open in 2014.

– There’s a reason you don’t see our star governor on the Sunday morning talk shows. He has a tightly-controlled media strategy to keep him from committing gaffes and to keep him fresh for the 2016 presidential election.

I imagine every reporter in the state has been frustrated with Andrew Cuomo’s limited media access. He doesn’t come to Rochester often and when he does, television and radio reporters don’t get to ask a ton of questions.

Politico reports:

Cuomo’s media operation is so aggressive and controlling that numerous media sources and political operatives declined to speak on the record about it, suggesting that it would get them in trouble with the governor’s office.

“If anybody even hints at saying something negative about the governor, they will get screamed at as soon as that thing hits the Web, within five minutes,” the former staffer said. “There’s a lot of intimidation.”

That said, few think Cuomo’s strategy is a bad idea.

– It seems Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse traded a decent number of residents between 2004 and 2010, as a migration map from the Urban Land Institute shows.

– Kodak wants to cut retiree health insurance for those over 65. This fact sheet from MVP compares Medicare plans and Kodak’s plan.