Centro has had a rough go of it the last few months, but the transit agency is poised to transform its service and serve the City better. Covid has shaken up service patterns and freed Centro to explore new service strategies, and the federal government’s infrastructure bill will provide the resources to implement those strategies effectively. Public transportation’s future is bright, and that’s a very good thing for Syracuse.
To see how Centro is changing its service to improve transit for the people who use it most, look at the 52 bus that runs through the Northside and Lyncourt. This has consistently been one of Centro’s busiest lines, but ridership is not spread evenly over the entire route. The bus picks up and drops off a lot of people between Butternut Street and Grant Boulevard, but it gets less use as it runs along Court Street.
That makes sense since the Northside is significantly more densely populated than Lyncount, it has a better mix of homes, institutions, and businesses than Lyncourt, and because households on the Northside are much less likely to own cars than are those in Lyncourt.
So as Centro is hiring new operators and adding service back to the 52 line , it’s targeting that service to the Northside. Eight times a day, a new variation—the 252 bus, blue on the maps above—will run between the Northside and Downtown without continuing out Court Street to Lyncourt. This truncated route will still serve all of the 52 bus’s busiest stops, and—because it’s so much shorter than the full 52 line—it will allow for much more frequency where people need it most.
Centro is calling this an “urban centric” strategy, and it’s a very good idea—in order to truly connect people to opportunity, the bus needs to run frequently. Centro should use its limited resources to achieve meaningful frequency in neighborhoods like the Northside where many people ride the bus. Similar changes can and should be made to many of Centro’s other routes.
The recently passed federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will supercharge this process. It contains $74 million for Centro to finally build and run BRT in Syracuse. As a start, this means two high-frequency bus lines—one from Eastwood to OCC along James Street and South Avenue, one from University Hill to the Regional Transportation Center along Adams and Salina Streets—with buses running no more than 15 minutes apart all day.
At root, BRT is nothing more than applying Centro’s ‘urban centric’ strategy to its highest ridership lines. The two corridors identified in the 2017 SMART1 plan are really just the best performing sections of four of Centro’s best performing lines. Investing in increased frequency on those high-ridership corridors will multiply the gains from Centro’s new service strategy.
So, if this experiment with the new 252 line goes well—if more people ride it because it targets better service where it’s most useful—then that line might be a candidate for conversion to BRT service in the future. These are the kind of iterative, data-driven service changes that will make BRT such an effective tool for continuously improving public transportation in Syracuse.
Eventually—as routes like the 252 and new service designs like BRT prove themselves—we should see similar improvements to lines like the 68 (Fayette and Erie Boulevard), 10 (South Salina), and 64 (Onondaga Avenue). Uplift Syracuse estimates that BRT service on those corridors would put 125,000 people and 80,000 jobs within walking distance of useful, reliable bus service. That’s the kind of transformational public transit this City needs and deserves.