Reimagine RTS for Climate-Friendly Transportation

RTS (Regional Transit Service) is currently planning an extensive overhaul to their transit system called “Reimagine RTS.” Maggie Brooks, VP of Strategic Initiatives at RTS, characterizes this as a “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to fundamentally improve our mass transit system in Rochester. This collaboratively-organized “Meeting in a Box” will provide an opportunity for organizations and individuals concerned about issues related to mass transit to develop a shared vision for the future of Rochester’s mass transit system.

RTS is badly in need of an overhaul. At the time the system was developed there were clear pockets of population density in the city that could effectively be served by a “hub and spoke” system, bringing people from densely populated neighborhoods throughout the city into the downtown hub for work, shopping, and cultural activities. RTS CEO Bill Carpenter said: “The public transit system in Monroe County was designed … when downtown Rochester was the center of our community from every perspective. Since then, the demographics of our area have changed, the locations of employment centers have changed, and the number of available mobility options has changed.”

The Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC) is working with a number of other organizations to advocate for a more efficient, reliable, equitable, and environmentally sustainable mass transit system.  The leaders of RPCC are optimistic about the possibilities afforded by the “Reimagine RTS” process, and offer the following suggestions that would contribute specifically to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector:

  1. Our first goal is to implement ways to significantly increase ridership: RTS must develop and improve Frequent Transit Network Lines, services that run 15 min. or less all day long, along with reliable and predictable services at night and on weekends. These services would operate on major arterials in high-demand locations, including options for a City Center Circulator and cross-city busses. These services would be assisted by the creation and expansion of “transit-lanes”, lanes specifically designated for bus use. Development of this kind of system may result in cuts to sparsely-populated locations within the city. These locations would need to be served in other ways (to be discussed later). Expansion of the RTS system into outlying suburban and rural areas should be discouraged as an incentive to draw employers away from suburbs and back into the city, helping to spur urban revitalization. However, this process must be undertaken with utmost care and high-consideration for those customers and employees dependent on transit (including low-income, elderly, and disabled customers).
  2. RTS should commit to a 100% electric fleet by 2027: All new projects (such as the Center City Circulator) should use electric vehicles. This would be the most significant contribution RTS could make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Rochester, of which approximately 24% come from on-road transportation emissions.
  3. RTS can develop and expand alternatives to full-size busses: to serve low-density population centers, RTS should continue to explore options for “right-sizing” busses (providing smaller busses for less-traveled lines), vanpool options, and other innovative solutions including coordination with bike- and car-share programs.
  4. Coordination of transit, land-use planning, and active/other public transportation: RTS needs to be involved in land-use decision-making, providing input on mass transit options for all new development within the city of Rochester. All new development projects should provide high-quality access to public transportation. All new development projects as well as existing infrastructure upgrades should prioritize seamless integration of mass transit with pedestrian, bike, and other (“right-sized”) public transit options.  When necessary, developers should contribute financially towards mass-transit development.
  5. Generate extra funding for a sustainable and innovative transit system: We encourage RTS to pursue funding increases for public transit that will provide Rochester with a comprehensive, user-friendly transit system that meets the needs of our community, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, the considerable costs for acquiring an electric fleet could be financed by bond funding, sales-tax increase, or grant acquisition. RTS has successfully acquired grants in recent past, including the following:
    1. 2017: $8.3 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program for mobile ticketing system and 5 electric buses
    2. 2017: $9.9 million grant from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Public Transportation Modernization and Enhancement Program to replace over-age buses, improve transit facilities and provide better service

RPCC looks forward to supporting and working with RTS as they identify sources of funding for the electrification of the fleet and improvement of facilities and service that will allow our vision for a sustainably “reimagined” transit system to become a reality.


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