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Centro at 70 percent of pre-pandemic service amid bus operator shortage

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media File Photo

The Central New York Regional Transportation Authority or Centro recently held a public information session regarding changes to several bus routes made due to operator shortages.

Steven Koegel, Centro's Vice President of Communications & Business Planning officer, said since changes were made in September 2021, service has been periodically restored — most recently in March of this year.

"We now have our service level to about 70 percent of our previous operating levels in Syracuse and Onondaga County," Koegel said. "It's not where we want it, but this is what our manpower allows this time."

Koegel said ridership is at around 73 percent of pre-pandemic levels system-wide. He says much of the changes weren't necessarily about where rides went but how frequently those rides were available and an equity analysis was done for any changes made.

"When you consider minority and low-income individuals, only three of the 12 bus routes had significant impact on low-income and minority populations," Koegel said. "When we look at the service eliminations on its entirety, system-wide, it really does not raise any concerns of inequitable distribution of burdens or inequitable distribution of our bus services."

So how does Centro proceed now? Koegel says they're working to aggressively hire more bus operators — with hiring campaigns focused on letting people sit behind the wheel to get the feel of driving a bus.

Centro is also planning for the future noting ridership patterns have changed post-pandemic.

"We're seeing an expansion in increased need bringing individuals who live in the city of Syracuse to job situations that are outside the city of Syracuse," Koegel said. "I think probably the one that comes to mind for most is the Amazon fulfillment center."

The transportation company is also working to expand its bike and scooter share program beyond the City of Syracuse limits to Onondaga Community College. Centro is working to implement Bus Rapid Transit in 2026. They also plan to test on-demand service in smaller areas like the City of Rome before adding it to service in Syracuse and Onondaga County.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.