Gondolas as Transit

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s FY 2018 budget proposal included funds to link the State Fairgrounds to the Lakeview Amphitheater with a system of gondolas. The completed system will also stop at the Grey Lot, and it is part of a much larger State effort to reconfigure access to the Fairgrounds via I-690.

In the days since the plans became public, Richard Ball, New York State Agriculture Commissioner, has defended the proposal, arguing that gondolas will make the Fairgrounds a year-round facility, integrate the Amphitheater with the Fair Experience, and become an attraction in their own right.

Private money funded a feasibility study for a similar gondola proposal in Albany. That system would cross the Hudson River to connect Albany proper with the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station.

As transit solutions, both gondola proposals fall flat. Each will cost between $15 and $20 million to construct, each will serve a very limited population and purpose, and each will connect points already linked by sidewalks and surface roads.

Unfortunately, many people don’t think of the New York State Fair or the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station as problems in need of transit solutions. These are two of the only places in Upstate New York where many people will ever experience what it’s like to go without a car. These people have never gotten to work an hour early because that’s when the bus runs, and they’ve never needed a taxi to get to the grocery store. It’s easy for them to think of the Fair and the Train Station as unique problems–to say “it sucks to get to the Amphitheater without a car.”

It sucks to get anywhere in Upstate without a car. Our transit systems offer infrequent service to limited areas. People who rely transit face this problem everyday. They know that it’s not strange to wait an hour for the next bus or to walk along the highway to get where you’re going–these are symptoms of underfunded transit systems.

These gondolas are a waste of public money. Each will cost as much to build as Centro’s Transit Hub. The Albany gondola is projected to cost $2.4 million annually which is equal to 2.9% of CDTA’s annual expenses or 3.4% of Centro’s. That doesn’t seem like much until you remember that the State’s contribution to the regional transit authorities hasn’t kept up with the cost of inflation for a decade.

For less money, the State could fund more frequent service along CDTA’s existing Route 214, connecting Hudson Valley Community College, Rensselaer, Amtrak, downtown Albany, and SUNY Albany. The State could also expand its existing contract with Centro to provide shuttle service between the State Fairgrounds and the Lakeview Amphitheater when necessary. The remaining funds could go directly into the Statewide Mass Transportation Operating Assistance program, improving transit service in all the other situations where people really need it.