How do you get from place to place? The Essex County Transportation Department wants to know.
The county Transportation Department recently released a survey that asks Essex County residents about obstacles they may face when trying to get around and how useful they find the county’s current public transportation routes. Feedback from the survey could be used as the department considers whether to add more bus stops or routes.
“We’re trying to gear things in a way that is really helpful to people instead of just putting a route out there and then people have to conform,” county Transportation Coordinator Doreen Abrahamsen said. “Let’s see where people would like to go and for what reason.”
The county’s four current bus routes start at the county Department of Public Works in Lewis and have final destinations in Lake Placid, Keeseville and Ticonderoga. Shuttle service is also provided within the village of Lake Placid via the Lake Placid XPRSS. The county also operates hiker shuttles along state Route 73 in the summer and ski shuttles to the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in the winter.
Any Essex County resident can fill out the survey. The department hopes to get a sense of the kinds of transportation people use now, issues people might have with getting to appointments and the types of places people need to go. Abrahamsen said the department is focused on serving Essex County’s workforce, but it can be hard to coordinate with everyone’s different schedules and places. The survey is a starting point for the department to gather more information about what the county’s workforce needs to get to and from work.
People can fill out the survey online at https://tinyurl.com/sjssnuvb. People can also print out a hard copy of the survey from the county’s website and mail it to Essex County Public Transportation, P.O. Box 217, Elizabethtown, NY 12932.
The survey is still in its preliminary stages, according to Abrahamsen, so the department hasn’t considered any route changes in-depth yet. She’s seen some comments about adding a Schroon Lake-North Hudson route, and the department has floated the idea of starting a new shopper’s route to get people to bigger stores like Wal-Mart. There’s already a shopper’s route that goes to Hannaford’s and Price Chopper in Lake Placid and Aldi in Saranac Lake, Abrahamsen said. Potential route additions would vary depending on the survey feedback.
The survey comes on the heels of pandemic-related restrictions. The department couldn’t run its public routes for nearly a year because of guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A shopper’s route started up in September 2020 in areas that formerly had public routes so people could get medication and food, but Abrahamsen said the county’s public transportation didn’t return to full service until April of 2021.
She believes a lot of people in the county have shifted their thinking about work and getting around during the pandemic, and the survey could help her department understand how transportation needs have changed with that shift.
Abrahamsen said ridership was slow to bounce back last year, adding that ridership on Lake Placid routes ramped up quicker than more rural southern routes.
The pandemic continues to have an effect on public transportation in Essex County, Abrahamsen said. Some people are still working from home, and Abrahamsen said the county created a more thorough public transportation cleaning system during the pandemic that’s here to stay.
The pandemic has also exacerbated the local staffing and housing crises, a trend reflected nationwide. It’s becoming harder to find affordable housing in areas like Lake Placid, where limited housing stock, a pandemic-related real estate boom and a robust vacation rental market have driven up real estate and rental prices.
A 2020 Housing Needs Assessment in North Elba and Lake Placid found that just 34% of the town and village’s workers live locally, with 761 workers left without housing within the town or village. With not everyone able to afford to live where they work, getting to work can be more difficult for people without reliable transportation. That makes finding staff more difficult for local businesses and organizations, an issue that’s reached the county Transportation Department, too. Abrahamsen noted that making “wishlist” improvements to the county’s routes hinges upon having the staff to drive them.
Abrahamsen said the Lake Placid area currently has the most public transportation because more people are consolidated into a smaller area. The Lake Placid XPRSS travels through the village seven days a week, while the county’s southern, rural routes are limited to Monday through Friday. Lake Placid’s comprehensive route makes traveling easy within the village, Abrahamsen said, though people working in Lake Placid and living in more rural outlying towns like Wilmington, Jay and Keene might have a harder time finding a bus stop nearby. Abrahamsen said the department would consider serving any additional needs in Lake Placid, but she expects to hear from more people in outlying towns about extending routes to Lake Placid.
The survey doesn’t have a set end date. Abrahamsen said her department is working with the county Department of Public works to study the data as it rolls in. She hopes to address as many requests as possible with the county’s improved routes.