Arc may have an answer

Gwen Chamberlain

Yates County Legislators have heard a handful of proposals from different transit companies in recent months, but have not taken action to invest in a partnership for what many say is desperately needed in Yates County: affordable public transportation.

It’s an issue that has been talked about on and off since 2007, notes County Administrator Sarah Purdy, and now there may be some progress toward establishing a system that can provide reliable public transportation for at least part of the community.

But last week, the legislature’s Human Services Committee authorized Purdy to work with Daniele Lyman of The Arc of Yates and Mary Zelazny of Finger Lakes Community Health, among others to identify the needs and propose a plan.

“With the resource of Daniele’s experience in public transportation and Mary’s enthusiasm, I think we’re finally going to see something happen,” said Legislative Chairman Timothy Dennis.

Previous studies and surveys on transportation will be reviewed and Purdy says about $50,000 may be available from the Genesee Regional Transportation Council to further study the local needs and begin establishing a system.

Lyman, President/CEO of The Arc, presented details about a system that could help people get to and from many areas of the county and to some areas outside Yates County.

Using a fleet of buses already owned and operated by The Arc, bolstered by funding available through the New York State Department of Transportation, Lyman said her agency envisions daily routes between: Penn Yan and Dundee (with possible connections to Watkins Glen and Bath), Dresden, Rushville, Naples, and Geneva (with possible connections to Ontario and Seneca County systems).

The funding, Statewide Mass Transportation Operating Assistance (STOA), comes from a trust managed by the Department of Transportation. Because there is no qualified public transportation system in Yates County, this is one of just two counties in the state that does not reap payments from the fund, according to Lyman, who was previously Chief Operating Officer of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority.

She said the Arc’s program could be the first piece of a coalition in the county since it would concentrate on fixed routes.

Neighboring counties Steuben and Schuyler operate public transportation systems based on partnerships with their county’s Arc chapter.

Schuyler County’s program marked its fifth anniversary in August.

In five years, Schuyler County Transit ridership has tripled with about 18,500 passenger trips in the last year. Public transit opened in 2010 under a contract partnership between Schuyler County and The Arc of Schuyler, a not-for-profit organization serving people with developmental disabilities.

Schuyler’s Public transit launched in August 2010 with a fixed route service to the villages of Burdett, Montour Falls, Odessa, and Watkins Glen as well as a Dial-A-Ride service.

“The transit service is an important asset to Schuyler County. Senior citizens and many others need transportation to supports at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls, the hospital, health care facilities, shopping, and more. This is an economical mode of transportation that is essential for our residents,” Montour Falls Mayor, John King said at the fifth anniversary celebration.

The system made modifications over the years for rider convenience, installing bus shelters, adding stops, and adjusting the route to accommodate frequent riders, including people with disabilities and seniors.

In 2014, the system opened additional routes to rural areas of the county, transporting riders from Bennetsburg, Hector, Reynoldsville, and Valois to stops in Watkins Glen. The Corning Connections route was introduced later that year and has been used by Corning Community College students and employees of Corning businesses. Schuyler County Transit has also been contracted to offer shuttle services for special community events.

Schuyler County Office for the Aging Director and member of the Coordinated Transportation Committee, Tammy Waite commented, “The public transit system is a safe, reliable and affordable means of getting to and from destinations. It is a great alternative when one must make that difficult decision to give up the car keys and allow someone else to transport them.”

Lyman, Purdy and Zelazny are among a group of representatives from local organizations that met in June to discuss the need for public transportation in Yates County. Since then, says Purdy, there has been more support for action.

Zelazny says getting people to medical appointments is a critically important part of maintaining a healthy community, which is the basis of Medicare and Medicaid funding support for the evolving health care reimbursement system. She says the Finger Lakes Performing Provider System (FLPPS) received the second highest award in New York State — up to $565 million over five years — to transform health care services for more than 300,000 people in the region. Improving the health care outcomes for people in a rural community is complicated if they don’t have reliable transportation, she says.

“Twenty percent of people live in rural communities, but only 10 percent of the health care providers are in rural communities,” she says, explaining transportation is a challenge for many, and it is a huge issue for any community-based health care system.

“It costs us all a lot of money to have people not go to their appointments,” she told legislators.

She said as much as the health of the individuals is a concern, the health and stability of the health care system depends on transportation as well. “If our patients can’t get there, we are not enabling our hospitals to survive,” she said, adding that Finger Lakes Community Health employs more than 180 people who contribute to the community. “We’re all in this. The way of life is changing in our health care system,” she said.