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St. Lawrence NYSARC expands ridership

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CANTON — Public ridership on St. Lawrence NYSARC’s Connecting Communities transit program has increased from fewer than 300 people in May to more than 2,000 in October.

The public bus system run through the nonprofit agency replaced a county-subsidized program that had operated through an agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Roethel Coach Lines, Ogdensburg. The county Board of Legislators decided to end its public system because of financial constraints and low ridership. NYSARC’s system builds on the more than 30 routes it runs for its clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We cover the whole county,” said Jerry M. Filiatrault, NYSARC director of operations. “We’re better able to utilize our vehicles.”

Connecting Communities had an open house Thursday at its operations center on Commerce Lane to spread the word about the bus system.

“There’s still a lot of people who don’t know about us,” Mr. Filiatrault said.

The program in May started providing service to 281 people. For October, riders numbered 2,148.

Ridership started out being mostly Amish, which was true of the previous service run by Roethel, but now is split among the Amish, senior citizens and students.

The service has picked up riders in Star Lake and Cranberry Lake, where previous buses did not go.

“We have a lot of shoppers, seniors that don’t have other means of transportation,” said Sandra M. Layo, transportation manager.

The one-way fare on the buses, which are wheelchair-accessible, is $2.

“We’re breaking even. I think it’s doing just what it’s supposed to do,” Mr. Filiatrault said. “We’re geared to just cover our expenses.”

Minor deviations from the established routes are possible if riders provide 24 hours’ notice by calling 379-9531 and pay the $1.75-per-mile cost of running the bus.

“It’s flexible,” Mr. Filiatrault said.

However, the agency’s push is to keep the buses on time, so riders must be at designated stops when the bus arrives or risk being left behind.

St. Lawrence NYSARC hired a coordinator, two mechanics and four drivers to augment the staff it already had. It put up a 2,246-square-foot addition and tire warehouse at its operations center as part of the service expansion.

The schedule of routes, times and pickup points is available on the agency’s website, www.slnysarc.org/transportation.html.

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