In fifth year, free transit underperforms
Three years after the pandemic began, the Beacon Free Loop bus is nearly back to its pre-COVID ridership numbers. However, it remains one of the lower-performing routes in Dutchess County.
In 2018, the county rebranded the Beacon G Route, a little-used line that began running through the city in 2013, as the Beacon Free Loop. The bus operates from Monday to Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., making stops at the Metro-North Station, two locations on Main Street, the Mount Beacon parking lot and the Forrestal Heights apartment complex along a 25-minute route.
Ridership peaked in 2019, its first full year, with more than 38,000 passengers, but, even at that rate, the 30-foot-long bus only averaged just under five riders per trip. Ridership dropped in 2020 and 2021 but rebounded to about 35,000 last year.
Two of the county’s better-performing buses are the A and B routes, which run between Poughkeepsie and Fishkill and Poughkeepsie and Beacon, respectively. Those buses average about twice as many riders as the Beacon Loop, said Michael Grattini, Dutchess County’s director of public transit.
“You’re covering virtually half the county on those routes,” Grattini said, noting that the A route passes by Walmart, the Shoppes at South Hills and the Poughkeepsie Galleria on Route 9 — all busy shopping centers. “Most of our routes have a much bigger market span” than the Beacon Loop, he said.
On the Beacon Loop, “you’re limited to the people who want to go to and from the train station, everyday shoppers [at stores such as Key Food] and the afternoon people coming home from Metro-North,” Grattini said.
Along with the rebranding, which included a bright bus “wrap” created by local artists, the Beacon City Council in 2018 approved spending $5,000, plus $11,000 in 2019, to subsidize the $1.75 fare. At the time, the move was publicized as a 16-month trial to attempt to boost ridership, but the city has continued the allocation, including $14,630 for 2023.
City Administrator Chris White said on Wednesday (Feb. 8) that there’s been no talk of pulling funding, but “we do want to make it work for more people.”
Electric School Buses
The Beacon school board is expected to decide next month whether to include a ballot proposition for the purchase of an electric school bus when voters consider the district budget and elect board members in May.
State law requires that school buses purchased after 2027 run on electricity; all 50,000 gas-powered school buses in New York must be replaced by 2035.
District officials expect to make a presentation at the school board’s March 13 meeting that will include information on upkeep and driver training, storage and battery-charging strategies, and whether the district would qualify for funding from a settlement the state received in a lawsuit against Volkswagen.
Speaking to the school board last year, Superintendent Matt Landahl called the transition from diesel-fueled buses to electric a “huge, huge process” but said the best advice he’s gotten about the conversion is “it’s important to just start.”
The City Council’s Main Street Access Committee has recommended that Dutchess County re-route the bus, making it less of a “figure 8” and perhaps dropping the Mount Beacon stop, which is not heavily used. White said the bus sees the most riders on Saturdays, from tourists.
He would like the county to test an “up-and-back” route on Main Street, as well as Sunday service, or have the bus turn up East Main and loop around on either Leonard Street or Liberty Street. “I don’t think we’ve optimized the route or gotten the proper frequency yet,” White said.
Council Member George Mansfield, who owns the Dogwood restaurant and bar on East Main, said that a public-service announcement — “a subtle use-it-or-lose-it” message — may attract riders.
White said he would also like Dutchess to pilot an electric bus on the route, but that could be several years away. The county is applying for a federal grant to fund a feasibility study of electrifying its fleet of 56 buses, Grattini said, but has no immediate plans to buy electric buses.
The Beacon Free Loop has been an unequivocal success despite The Current’s withering and out-of-context sub-headline. Between 2013 and 2018 the G-Route had approximately 3,000 riders per year. In 2019, the first full year of the re-branding of the G-Route to the Beacon Free Loop, ridership was more than 38,000, which was an over 1,000 percent increase. For example, during the week of Oct. 23 to 29, 2017 (pre-Free Loop), 47 riders were recorded. During that same week after the launch of the Beacon Free Loop in 2018, 816 riders were recorded, a 2,000-percent increase. To compare the Free Loop to the F and B routes is truly apples to oranges – those two lines do not run as frequently as the Loop (3 to 4 times per day versus 3 times per hour) and serve a different function.
I am also very disheartened to read Mr. Simms’ weak reporting surrounding the genesis of the Beacon Free Loop. The project was an intensive collaboration between the county, the City of Beacon and BeaconArts, with assistance from the Marist College student-run marketing and PR firm NorthRoad Communications. Indeed, the project would never have happened without the catalyst of BeaconArts and those “local artists” who had been paying attention to the city’s strategic plan and the directive of providing a working shuttle from the train station to serve visitors and residents.
In addition, NorthRoad Communications is still very much involved, and is developing a ridership survey that will be implemented this spring, as well as ongoing an social media campaign to help boost ridership and to inform visitors and residents alike about schedule changes and the underutilized and under publicized Double Map app that the county launched a few years ago that shows the bus routes in real time.
Although I do agree with Mr. White that the route could be examined more closely to serve more people more efficiently, completely dropping the route up to Mount Beacon would be a mistake, and would result in serving many fewer residents. I do think that the county should consider expanding the Beacon Free Loop service to Sundays, as well as expanding service on the F and B Routes — I have heard from many Beaconites praising the Beacon Free Loop as a lifeline, but that the B and F routes are not adequate in the same breath. I also appreciate Mr. White’s comment that funding is not being pulled: Why would we go backward just as momentum for fare-free transportation is happening all over the world? Going even further, why not make the F and B routes (or all bus routes) fare-free? In Beacon, the cost to the city for the Free Loop is less than $1 per year per resident. That seems like a pretty good deal to me. I invite your readers to take advantage of the Beacon Free Loop — it truly works for everyone!
The story was not meant to recount the origin of the route, which we have reported in the past. While we didn’t mention the F line, it runs five times a day, Monday to Friday, between Beacon and the A&P in Hopewell Junction. You can find route maps and times at bit.ly/beacon-bus-routes.
I live in Beacon and have a mobility issue: No car. Hundreds weekly rely on the bus within the town. The A and B buses you reference are laughably irrelevant. Stay in your lane.
Try living without a car and with chronic mobility issues without the Loop Bus for a year or two, or six, as I have. Then come back and publish an “article” rather than a really poorly written “opinion” piece. A senior, or persons with reduced mobility — even commuters working outside of the cost-crippling “city” of Beacon need this bus (not just tourists). Add that actual financial cost for working people to your ethical and moral imperative to weigh what is true, useful and kind.
I was very surprised and upset to read that the Beacon Free Loop Bus, now in its fifth year, is underperforming. It would be a shame to discontinue this valuable service to our residents after five years, especially coming out of a three year pandemic which probably has skewed ridership statistics.
Perhaps the routes could and should be tweaked to be more inclusive of our outlying residents? Perhaps a very visual advertising campaign could help reinforce and remind residents of the availability of this service?
In times of crushing and escalating expenses, the Beacon Free Loop Bus provides a rare and valuable benefit. It enhances quality of life for all of us (less traffic, less pollution, more mobility, and convenience) and it is free to residents and visitors. No questions asked or ID required. Let’s expand its reach to be more inclusive, not shut it down. It’s a great benefit to living in Beacon. And it should stay.
That was a poor editorial choice on the headline — it is not supported by the numbers, or the impact of the service.
The Dutchess County director of public transit — not The Current — called the Beacon Loop bus “underperforming,” based on the number of passengers it carries, although we could have made that clearer in the subhead.
All they have to do is extend the route to include about a third of Beacon’s residents and businesses on Fishkill Avenue. There’s a brewery, three restaurants/bars, a deli, a laundromat and about 300 people in that area that would love to take the bus into town. But it also has the Hedgewood Home for Adults, and God forbid that the public see its residents on a bus.
The bus could go to the Beacon train station for people who ride the train or need to get to town. Instead, the bus turns at Memorial Park and goes up to one corner store near the mountain, then back to train station. [via Facebook]
So many times I’ve waited 15 minutes at a bus stop for a ride to the train station, only to have to run to catch the train anyway when the bus never shows. In the last five years, I’ve gotten the station-bound bus only once, in spite of a posted schedule.
Likewise, arriving by train at the station, we can see the bus from the platform, but will it still be there once we get through the tunnel? That’s a 50/50 bet. Worse yet, getting off an afternoon train, the bus could arrive immediately. And then the driver exits the bus, saying it departs in another hour! The schedule is disconnected from what commuters need.
To those who complain that the bus is there just for the train commuters, if it were, it should be better at doing it. Today, I got off the train arriving at 3:16 p.m. The bus was at the station, but no driver was around. Six of us (four with luggage) waited, but three got fed-up and walked toward the cabs.
The driver reappeared at 3:33 p.m. but said he wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3:37 p.m. (they track the bus by GPS, and know when he’s off schedule.) In that 21-minute wait, he lost three riders. But why did the bus have to wait 21 minutes, anyway? [via Facebook]
Why don’t they use a smaller bus? [via Facebook]
Dutchess County transit told us the bus used for the Beacon Loop is the smallest it has in its fleet.
I love the Loop. I don’t know why more people don’t use it. [via Instagram]
If the Loop got more love — a better schedule, Sunday service and a smaller vehicle to fit Main Street — it would get more riders. It would also help if the drivers would reliably stop when you wave at them. If the entire bus system could stop charging, we could take advantage of transfers. [via Instagram]
Step 1: Increase buses for higher frequency. Step 2: Allow well-behaved dogs to accompany folks. Step 3: Communicate arrival times at the stops. [via Instagram]