By MAUREEN PICHÉ
Inexpensive public transportation throughout St. Lawrence County is slated to shift hands from county to St. Lawrence NYSARC control in March, according to Jerry M. Filiatrault, director of operations.
The bus service, operated by the county government through an agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Roethel Coach Lines until it was shut down last year, will now be run by the county agency that assists people with disabilities.
NYSARC’s fleet of mini-buses already travels over 30 routes covering more miles than the original county routes. The buses pick up NYSARC clients with intellectual or developmental disabilities and bring them to other locales for activities like work, training and therapy. The idea is to include the public at large on those routes.
Filiatrault said NYSARC is trying to make the stretch between when the county ended the service in late December 2011 and its restart as short as possible. But before the runs can begin, contracts between NYSARC, the county and the state need to be ironed out.
“We’re getting everything as go-ready as we can so we can start with as few glitches as possible,” Filiatrault said.
He said the bus schedules and route maps are being finalized, and will soon be available to the public on the NYSARC website.
The routes won’t be exactly the same as the old service, Filiatrault said, but they’ll be comprehensive. The agency has 36 buses, and the DOT is allowing NYSARC to lease the six buses the county had been using. There will be designated areas of pickup throughout the county at existing shelters. He said people will also be able to make “demand calls” if necessary, and he will do what he can to accommodate them.
For now, the routes will stay in the county, but if customer demand is there, Filiatrault said he will consider going outside.
The state will take over the funding of the public service from the county. They already provide NYSARC with grants to operate buses for clients, Filiatrault said. The agency will stay within the guidelines of the grants, continuing to provide existing service during the times specified, but adding passengers.
Filiatrault said NYSARC approached the county with the idea of taking over the service because it just made sense to get as much use out of the bus runs as possible. But this isn’t intended to be a big profit-making venture. He said they will consider the service a success if they continue to break even financially.
“We don’t plan on making any money, but we don’t want to lose any either,” he said.
The cost of a ride will drop from the $4 rate the county had set, to $2, Filiatrault said.
And they will continue to fine-tune the routes, staffing, etc., as they receive feedback and rider numbers pick up.
“It may take a few more drivers and another mechanic or two, but it will be done gradually, as the service is expanded,” he said.
Filiatrault said anyone with questions, suggestions on routes, or special requests for trips between now and the startup of service can call him at 379-9531 ext. 1032 or 566-9299 (cell).