OSWEGO, N.Y. — Transportation in Oswego County, along with other rural communities across the nation, can be a significant hurdle for employment, education and health care, and mobility experts are trying to clear those hurdles by re-imagining public transportation in the county.

Oswego County contracted with Watertown-based Volunteer Transportation Center (VTC) to analyze the county’s public transportation system, and revise and redevelop routes to ensure county residents have access to transportation for work, school, shopping and other needs. VTC is planning to evaluate the public transportation network around the county and make short- and long-term improvements to the system, but in the meantime routes continue to operate.

Funding for the multi-year project was made available through the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

Frank Doldo, regional mobility manager at VTC, said the mobility management program is aimed at removing barriers to transportation for Oswego County residents by increasing the availability of transportation options, improving the delivery of transportation services and ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of the local public transit system.

“That’s what we’re going to focus on this year and in future years,” Doldo said of the multi-year project. “Getting access to Oswego County residents.”

Doldo said it’s difficult to put a timeframe on a project with such a large scope, which will seek to make local transportation as efficient and sustainable as possible. He also will look to create routes that have significant ridership and make sense for the community.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but I would say in the next three years the goal is we have access to all Oswego County residents to get to employment, education, food source and services,” Doldo said.

County Legislator Tim Stahl, R-Oswego Town, who chairs the Economic Development and Planning Committee that oversees portions of the county’s public transit system, said in recent years county officials recognized “a real need” for improved transportation.

“We know there are a lot of problems,” Stahl said, noting the presence of VTC to focus on the issue on a daily basis would be essential to improving the transit system.

One particular issue VTC is working to solve is the so-called first and last mile problem, in which individuals in rural areas are unable to find transportation to a bus stop to access public transit systems. A proposed First Mile, Last Mile program would pick individuals up at their home and transport them to the nearest bus stop, where they could then travel to work, health care appointments or stores, and then transport them back home from the nearest bus stop when done with their business.

“That First Mile, Last Mile would be a godsend for some folks,” said Monty Flynn, a mobility manager with VTC heading up the Oswego County project.

VTC officials said such a program would be effective especially in rural areas like Richland or Williamstown.

VTC started work for the county in January, and Doldo said the organization early on sought to make the county whole by securing funds that have been owed dating back nearly a decade. With the help of VTC, the county was able to recoup more than $300,000.

Moving forward, VTC officials are seeking input from local human services agencies, employers and county residents about their transportation needs. VTC has been surveying stakeholders, and officials say public input is critical to developing an effective transportation program.

“We want to know where people need to get to and when they need to get there,” Doldo said. “Because we want to provide a better quality of life for people to get jobs and to get access to healthy foods.”

Doldo said VTC currently has limited data as participation among local employers has been low, and the organization is seeking officials’ help in garnering a greater response from local employers.

“The more employers we can get some input from, the better it will be,” Flynn said of the county’s final coordinated transportation plan, which will be one of the main focuses of VTC in the near future as the agency plans to have recommendations ready for updated routes by early 2021.

Legislator Mary Ellen Chesbro, R-Volney, who chairs the county’s Transportation Advisory Committee, said the county needed professional help to improve the local transportation system and VTC has provided that assistance. Chesbro, however, said the only way VTC would be able to succeed in their effort is by “hearing from the employees, the employers and the residents” of Oswego County.

Employers and other stakeholders can provide input to VTC by emailing Flynn at monty@volunteertransportation.org.

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