Finding the Money For Better Bus Service

Late last year, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council suggested that Centro run buses every ten minutes between Syracuse University and the Train Station, and between Eastwood and OCC. That’s a good idea, and there should be more good ideas like it on the way. City Hall has already asked the SMTC to look at how Centro can offer similar service on Erie Boulevard.

The problem is that it will cost money. The SMTC has estimated that it’ll cost $2.8 million to run the buses between the University and the Train Station, and it will cost $3.6 million to run the buses between Eastwood and OCC.

Normally when Centro talks about money, it’s talking about how it doesn’t even have enough to pay for the service it runs now. It wasn’t that long ago that Centro thought it would have to cut all late night and Sunday service in for lack of money. This year Centro is only planning to get an extra $450,000 from the State this year. That’s chump change for an organization with a $117,785,000 budget.

If Centro’s not going to get the money to run this service from out of thin air, then it’ll need to find the money in the budget it’s already got. The easiest way to do that is to take the drivers and vehicles from existing bus routes and move them to these new lines. There are opportunities for Centro to run its buses more efficiently so that it can free up drivers and vehicles to do just that without seriously cutting back on the service it already provides.

Take the 254 and 410 buses. Those buses run, for the most-part, within a couple blocks of each other, so a lot of people can catch either bus depending on when they need to ride. That’s good when the buses run at different times, because it offers better service for people who can get to either line. But when those buses run at the same time, it means that Centro is paying for two drivers and two vehicles to provide the service when it could just pay one instead.


If Centro cut all of the 254 buses that run at exactly the same time as a 410 bus, it would free up an extra bus and driver for 64 hours and 40 minutes a week, or 3372 hours a year. That’s 12% of what the SMTC thinks it’ll take to run the new bus service between the University and the Train Station–not enough to pay for the whole thing, but not nothing either.

There are lots of other situations like this because Centro times its routes to arrive and depart from the Hub all at once. That’s good for people trying to make transfers to get across town, but a lot of the time it means that more than one bus from the same side of town end up lining up together. Whenever that happens, there’s an opportunity for Centro to move one of those drivers to another route to provide better service.

There are some tradeoffs. Some people are going to have to walk farther to catch the bus, and that’s a lot to ask if you’re talking about a person for whom walking is difficult because of age, physical disability, or injury. The 254 bus also runs down a stretch of Valley Drive that’s not within easy walking distance of the 410 bus, and the 254 bus makes a special stop at the Bernadine Apartments that the 410 bus does not.

But this bus service is worth those tradeoffs. It’s a simple, reliable, effective way for people to get across town. It runs through neighborhoods where a lot of people are poor and a lot of people don’t have cars. It connects those neighborhoods to the three places in Syracuse where there are the most jobs, and it also connects them to the colleges where people can improve themselves and their opportunities for employment. That’s what the bus needs to do in this City.