Jeremy Smith – Capital District Transportation Authority
It’s not a Japanese bullet train, but employees at the Capital District Transit Authority are proud of upstate New York’s second Bus Rapid Transit line that hit the road last winter with a fleet of shiny blue and silver buses moving riders around Albany and surrounding communities.
Known as the River Corridor Bus Rapid Transit Blue Line, the $45 million project was recently completed, taking an environmentally friendly transportation program to the next level, says CDTA’s Director of Facilities Jeremy Smith. A second project included the addition of four new electric buses—in use for just over a year—connecting residents across CDTA’s 2,300-square mile service area that covers Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.
CDTA will launch its next BRT line—the Washington Western Purple Line—in 2023, at a price tag of $77 million. Shorter in length, but with additional infrastructure projects to accompany the service, Smith says it will more closely resemble a light rail operation.
As one of the few transit agencies to operate electric buses and offer bike sharing, CDTA is researching plans to incorporate additional electric vehicles, including e-scooters which will be introduced this spring.
“We’re about innovation supporting what our customers want in the future, with different styles of mobility to provide sustainability,” Smith says.
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary during the pandemic, CDTA was created by the New Your State Legislature in 1970. Its operations are overseen by a nine-member board of directors representing four counties, in addition to a non-voting member of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Because Albany had no subway or light rail system, CDTA developed a speedy, affordable bus line. The biggest benefit of shifting away from diesel-powered buses to new electric vehicles is reducing emissions—the buses also run more quietly.
“It was a collective effort to make environmental upgrades to serve our customers and partners,” Smith says, noting the program is funded by the state and the Federal Transit Administration.
To accommodate customers on a separate front, CDTA added new stations and larger shelters compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additional features include benches, lean rails, and heated sidewalks for safety during the winter months. Solar power also fuels lighting and USB ports for charging devices along the new River Corridor route.
Riders can access free Wi-Fi on all BRT buses and read the local newspaper free-of-charge online. Locations also have bike racks to support growth of mixed-mobility services in the future.
“Our board of directors and CEO Carm Basile had the vision to know it was time to develop these solutions,” Smith says. “The agency worked together to figure out how this would work and then made the investment.”
Mapping it out
The first step of CDTA’s multi-year BRT plan in 2011 included upstate New York’s first ever BRT service when the Red Line rolled out on the region’s busiest travel corridor. It connected riders to 20 stations along Route 5, linking Albany, Colonie, Niskayuna and Schenectady.
After evaluating ridership levels, CDTA procured new buses and repaired roads. It also expanded a storage and maintenance facility in Troy to maintain the fleet in November 2020 at a cost of $5 million.
That same month CDTA also built its Blue Line that includes 60 new stations (with 32 locations extending northbound and southbound) across three counties. Starting from Albany’s downtown business district, it connects communities along the Hudson River, including Watervliet, Troy, Cohoes and Waterford.
The third BRT route—the Purple Line—will begin operating in 2023 along a 10-mile stretch known as the Washington and Western corridor, connecting some of Albany’s universities to Crossgates Mall. Sixteen new stations will be built, four shared with the Red Line. All told, Smith says the BRT lines encompass 40 miles and are expected to generate 10 million trips annually.
Fast and green
Smith says the newly established bus lines have dedicated areas of specialized bus lanes that can tap into a transit signal priority system. The system controls traffic signals, so if a bus is running behind schedule, it can hold green lights longer so buses keep moving.
Looking ahead, Smith says CDTA will be expanding its “green mobility” operations with its regional bike share program CDPHP Cycle!, now in its fifth season. CDTA also offers a FLEX On Demand ride share service and the electric scooter rental service starting this summer.
According to Smith, improving the infrastructure—from stations to prepping roadways—was an important part of the process to launch the programs that come next. As he puts it, “we’ll be looking at new options to promote clean riding to reduce cars on the street to further reduce emissions.”
A native of Watervliet, near Albany, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Marist College in 2001. After graduating, he worked as an intervention coordinator at the St. Anne Institute and as a football coach at the Watervliet Consolidated School District—his alma mater.
Smith entered municipal government in 2014 as Watervliet’s city clerk before being named general manager in 2016. It was there that Smith connected with—and was ultimately hired by—CDTA in 2019.
Joining the agency just as it was launching the Blue Line project, Smith welcomed working with a team that includes Construction Manager Adam Slade. When COVID-19 arrived in early 2020, Smith and his team faced plenty of challenges—like sourcing construction materials for new projects—but kept employees and commuters safe.
“The pandemic hit public transit hard, but this team worked to keep operations rolling,” Smith says. “We delivered our project on time and on budget.”
Achieving so much during a difficult time, Smith says the future at CDTA looks promising. The team will continue researching different forms of transportation and other efforts of sustainability.
“There are so many projects coming down the line. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of game-changing transit initiatives that help the environment and the region,” Smith says.
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