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Easy riders? CDTA touts new, simplified rate structure. photo: Joe Putrock

Restructured for Your Convenience
CDTA’s plan to change its fare system draws praise—and surprisingly few complaints

If you’ve ever taken Capital District Transportation Authority buses between Albany and Troy or Schenectady with any regularity, you’ve no doubt witnessed this exchange between driver and passenger at least once. You might even have had the experience yourself.

Driver: “Zone check, please.”

Passenger: “You didn’t give me one.”

Driver: “Yes, I did. Thirty-five cents, please.”

Passenger: “I already paid. You didn’t give me a zone check.”

Under the current fare structure, certain longer-distance CDTA routes require an extra “zone charge” above the $1 base fare. When boarding, passengers pay the extra fare and the driver gives them a slip of paper or “zone check,” which the driver will later collect as proof of payment when the zone boundary is crossed. (Between Albany and Schenectady, for example, the extra fare applies if you ride the bus past Route 155 in either direction.) As in the scene described above, disputes can arise.

Sometimes passengers don’t know about the extra fare. Sometimes passengers are trying to beat CDTA out of 35 cents. And, sometimes, a driver will indeed forget to hand out a zone check to a particular passenger.

As part of CDTA’s proposed restructured fare policy—recently revealed at a series of public meetings in Troy, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and Albany—the zone system will be ended. In fact, much of the current fare system will be simplified. The extra charges for long-distance routes and express buses will be eliminated. The current off-peak half-fare discount for the elderly and disabled will be extended to all hours of CDTA operation. The elimination of the zone system and express charges will allow CDTA to reduce the types of monthly Swiper cards, which allow unlimited rides, from five to two. The $1 base fare will remain the same.

On the other hand—as the authority giveth, the authority taketh away—the fare on the various suburban shuttle services will be raised from 25 cents, an amount CDTA has characterized as an “introductory fare,” to $1. Most controversially, the system of bus transfers (receiving a paper transfer with your paid fare that allows a free transfer to another bus) will be ended. In its place, a $3 “day pass,” allowing unlimited travel for one day, will be offered.

When asked about the general reaction at the four recent public meetings, CDTA spokesman Carm Basile said that the plan was “warmly received.” He added that while, of course, “certain groups have certain issues,” overall, the simplicity of the plan proved appealing.

The plan, Basile explained, has been more than a year in the making. The changes were derived, he added, from input from the public and all levels of CDTA, from drivers to the board of directors. Drivers and customers find the zone system cumbersome, and the complex rate structure created a marketing problem for CDTA. The goal, Basile said, was to create a more simplified, “revenue-neutral” (meaning that the new plan is not a back-door attempt to raise revenue) rate structure that everyone could be happy with.

Lucille Brewer, of the advocacy group Citizens for Transportation, is generally happy with the proposed changes: “On the whole, I think they’re good.”

Though Brewer is not entirely pleased with the elimination of bus transfers—the extra cost may penalize infrequent riders—she thinks that the $3 day pass may encourage more people to buy the monthly Swiper cards, which allow unlimited trips. And, she adds, Swiper cards are simply better.

Brewer’s only serious reservation relates to the increase in cost from 25 cents to $1 for the shuttle that services Northway Mall from Colonie Center. Citizens for Transportation was the driving force behind this expanded service, and Brewer notes that $1 seems to be a lot to charge for the ride across Central Avenue.

According to CDTA’s Basile, the new rate structure could go into effect as early as March 2005. The public comment period ended Oct. 1, and the authority needs to go through all submitted comments. The board of directors may take up the proposal at their November meeting.

The main challenge in implementing the new system will be educating the public, Basile said. By eliminating transfers and zone checks, he noted, CDTA will be asking the public to change “70 years of behavior.”

—Shawn Stone


Overheard:: “OFFER: Day-old Snapping Turtles. about 1.5 inches long. Very cute and harm[l]ess at the moment. After a few months . . . they will be able [to] take off a child’s fingers, or an adult’s fingers. Available for “class project”, “show-and-tell,” anatomy lessons, or at-home study. . . . Do NOT release these turtles in the wild . . . Eat these turtles if necessary, but do not introduce them where they are not already established. . . . Wild-grown snapping turtles are saddly [sic] often contaminated with heavy metal po[l]lution, or PCBs. These pups could be raised “organic” like chickens, living off your table scraps. You are responsible for obtaining any permits necessary.”

—Message to the Capital Region Freecycle listserv from a landowner trying to keep snapping turtles out of his pond. The message contained background information on the legality and safety of keeping and releasing turtles, but no recipes.


What a Week

Blue States Are States, Too

During recent storms, several counties in New York, including Delaware and Sullivan, experienced flooding above the 100-year floodplains, but have not received any disaster aid like that approved for neighboring Pennsylvania counties from the same storm. While George W. Bush was quick to issue a Presidential Disaster Declaration for several counties in Pennsylvania (a swing state), requests made by Gov. George Pataki in late September for similar aid have yet to be answered. The delay is “as yet unexplained,” as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to Bush requesting that he expedite the process.

Free Speech 1, Diebold 0

In a victory for free speech and open discussion, a district court in California ruled that electronic voting machine manufacturer Diebold Inc. knowingly misused the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act in an attempt to silence online discussion of flaws in the company’s products. Diebold sent out dozens of cease-and-desist letters to Internet service providers hosting documents leaked from Diebold that described significant flaws in the technology used for recording votes, claiming that copyright laws protected the documents. Electronic advocacy groups sued Diebold on behalf of the ISPs for improper use of the DMCA. Judge Jeremy Fogel wrote in his decision that “no reasonable copyright holder could have believed that [the documents] were protected by copyright.”

Gloves Off, Facts Murky

The first presidential debate and only vice-presidential debate jumpstarted interest in the presidential campaign this week. Kerry supporters were crowing over a Bush performance that many likened to a kid in the principal’s office—to the extent that some Bush supporters started asking if Kerry “had the questions beforehand.” We all know the questions; it’s the answers we’re concerned about, folks. Meanwhile, on Tuesday a tense Cheney mistakenly directed the audience to (George Soros’ anti-Bush site) rather than The nonpartisan does, however, have good rundowns of the inaccuracies perpetuated by both parties in both debates (and, by the way, backs Edwards up on the claim for which Cheney was referring people to the site).

What Are They Thinking?

A Russell Sage College/Zogby poll finds that the gender gap has evaporated and women are split evenly between the presidential tickets. There is, however, a pronounced marriage gap: Single women support Kerry by a 2-to-1 margin, while 52 percent of married women favor Bush. Tellingly, married women whose husbands handle the financial decisions in the household are much more likely—73 percent—to support Bush.

Our Lady of Protest?

photo credit: John Whipple

At a Citizens Concerned for Human Life protest outside Colonie Center on Sunday (Oct. 3), a woman hides her face behind a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who has been adopted by some anti-abortion activists as a symbol of their movement.

A plan for real reform: (l-r) Dick Dadey, Rachel Leon, Blair Horner and Barbara Bartoletti.

photo credit: Rick Marshall

Reform or Bust
Civic groups urge voters to be wary of lawmakers’ reform-minded promises, and create a checklist to
separate the true reformists from the pretenders

Calling the recent convergence of scandals, late budgets, election upsets and widespread calls for reform a “perfect storm” in state government, several civic groups have created a list of issues for voters to keep in mind when evaluating lawmakers’ commitment to reform.

“Politicians are adaptable people,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Over the years they’ve learned to shrug off our critique and they’ve learned to shrug off editorial critique.”

“But this—this is something different,” said Horner, referring to a recent spate of elections where incumbents have been unseated in party primaries by challengers pledging to make sweeping reforms in state government. “Politicians are now clamoring to declare themselves ‘reformers,’ but we need to make sure their preelection rhetoric matches their postelection action.”

The civic groups presented a list of 10 issues that—in some cases—could be acted upon prior to the upcoming election, but in the likely event that no action is taken, state legislators were invited to make the issues a part of their campaigns.

“[The list] helps to frame the debate,” explained Rachel Leon of Common Cause New York.

Among the 10 recommendations made by the civic groups was that an independent redistricting commission be created to redraw legislative district boundaries and create more competitive elections. Since Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans have been given free rein by the governor to create the boundaries of their legislative districts, incumbents usually face little opposition in general elections. The civic groups recommended modeling an independent commission after one already in place in Iowa.

Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters called for the state government to revisit legislation it passed this year regarding the Help America Vote Act. The groups claimed that the final legislation agreed upon by both halves of the Legislature did not include some of the necessary safeguards for voter identification, among other things. While they applauded legislators for putting New York state into compliance with basic federal voting standards, the groups argued that glaring inconsistencies in the legislation will likely cause problems in the upcoming election.

“Instead of mass chaos in November, we just might have mass confusion,” explained Bartoletti, who also added that if legislators wait too long to discuss standards for voting machines, the test for any new technology might be held during the nation’s midterm elections in 2006 instead of the 2005 county elections.

Also included in the group’s 10-point plan was a recommendation for the governor to make documents normally available through the Freedom of Information Law—and its accompanying paperwork—also available via the Internet. The groups also urged passage of legislation regarding budget, campaign-finance and lobbying reforms that failed to make it out of the Legislature or governor’s office last session.

While many legislators have already adopted some of these recommendations for reform in the run-up to November’s election, the groups urged voters to be skeptical, take note of lawmakers’ preelection positions this year, and vote accordingly in 2006.

“All we can go on is what [candidates] say,” said Horner. “But these [elected officials] aren’t in for life—although some of them might think that they are.”

—Rick Marshall

The Answer, My Friend . . .
With the price of oil at an all-time high, some local groups say spending more on it is not the only option

At a forum held in Bethlehem last weekend, scientists and other professionals from around the region weighed in on the relationship between oil production and use, and discussed alternatives to standard energy systems.

According to Dave Borton, professor of solar energy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the rate of oil use in America eclipsed that of new oil discovery more than 20 years ago. With the future of global oil discovery uncertain, and the United States’ reliance on imported oil increasing, said Borton, this country is going to face some tough decisions as world supply nears its limits.

However, there are ways to reduce reliance on oil—both on the national and individual level.

“You can do a lot in New York state when you use the sun,” said Borton, who claimed that if properly harnessed, solar energy from just the four states in the Southwest corner of the United States could meet the rest of the nation’s energy needs. Furthermore, Borton claimed that the entire nation could be similarly powered by harnessing wind energy from the Midwest.

While he acknowledged that a transition to solar or wind energy—both for individual homes and across the nation—would be expensive in its initial stages, Borton said that deciding to use solar power in his own home has saved him nearly $1,000 each year.

Marion Trieste, a consultant for wind-energy supplier Community Energy, was also on hand to offer up details on the use of wind power around New York and the rest of the nation. Trieste addressed several of the common concerns regarding wind power, including facilities’ cost-effectiveness and their aesthetic effect upon the surrounding region.

“There has been a 90-percent reduction in the costs associated with using wind power since 1980,” explained Trieste, who added that the growth of the wind industry and reduction in its associated costs is entirely dependent upon showing that there’s a public demand for harnessing renewable resources.

While critics of wind-power facilities often claim that the necessary turbines have a negative aesthetic effect on the region, Trieste argued that such facilities are often a key component to preserving the surrounding land. In order for such facilities to be effective, she explained, the area around the turbines must remain undeveloped—thereby preserving open land.

“If [consumers] see the potential—what it could mean for our future—I have no doubt that their attitudes would change,” she said, adding that the New York headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, in New York City, operates on 100-percent wind power. (Though the actual electricity that the building receives is no different than what its neighbors get, it has purchased a new amount of wind power equivalent to its energy usage, thereby adding that much wind power to the system.) The New York EPA building was the first government building in the nation to do this. Locally, Saratoga Springs has recently signed up to get a large portion of its energy through Community Energy’s wind turbines.

Joining Trieste and Borton at the forum were two members of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, who urged attendees to take an active role in their communities’ use of energy. Along with encouraging elected officials to adopt energy-efficient building codes, consideration of energy use when developing—including transportation needs during and after construction—can reduce future consumption of nonrenewable resources, they explained.

“Even purchasing new, more efficient construction vehicles is a step in the right direction,” said Bill Reinhardt, one of the NYSERDA representatives.

Volunteers were also on hand at the forum to assist Niagara Mohawk subscribers in registering for a program that would require a significant portion of subscribers’ electricity to come from wind power (using a similar approach to the New York EPA building). While the volunteers made sure to point out that the program would slightly increase subscribers’ monthly bills, many of those signing up echoed the sentiments expressed by Trieste during the forum—wanting to show that the public is not only interested in renewable energy, but is willing to pay a little more to realize its potential.

—Rick Marshall

Loose Ends

Foie Gras, the delicacy created by force-feeding ducks [“Foie Wha?” Newsfront, Aug. 26], has been banned in California (to be phased out over several years), leaving New York the only state where it remains legal. . . . The law ensuring hospital visitation rights to domestic partners in New York state [“No Longer Out in the Cold,” Newsfront, Aug. 19], has been signed by Gov. George Pataki. . . . Both the Department of Environmental Conservation and the state power-plant siting committee have signed off on the contentious Besicorp power plant and newsprint recycling facility planned for Rensselaer [“Rensselaer Surrenders,” Newsfront, May 27].
. . . Kevin Hall, an attorney who spoke out against Columbia County Judge Paul Czajka [“Judicial Tempers,” Trail Mix, Aug. 5], has been suspended from the practice of law for professional misconduct. . . . St. Lawrence Cement Plant [“Cement Soundbites,” FYI, Aug. 5] has withdrawn its application for a “Coastal Consistency” determination from the state Division of Coastal Resources. This does not mean it cannot reapply, but it would have to start over from the beginning of the review process.

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