Syracuse will likely get a new, faster bus system by 2026.

Advocates have stumped for a “bus rapid transit” service since at least 2018, when a study by the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council recommended its creation. 

Bus rapid transit typically operates service at fixed intervals, making  routes more accessible and, in some cases, eliminating reliance on complex bus schedules. 

Centro, the regional transportation authority that provides busing in Central New York, will discuss BRT with the Syracuse Common Council’s transportation committee on Tuesday. Centro’s plans were first reported by WRVO.

Jen Schultz, the committee’s chairwoman who arranged the meeting, said Monday she has concerns about transportation with the potential influx of people when Micron arrives. 

The proposal for BRT had languished since 2018, despite its support among transportation advocates and Syracuse Common Councilor Michael Greene. 

Mayor Ben Walsh included BRT as a policy goal during his run for re-election in 2021.Micron’s commitment to build four chip manufacturing facilities has most recently ignited attention to proposals for BRT.  

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and Centerstate CEO president Rob Simpson each said late last year they expected BRT to become a reality. 

Perhaps the final straw: Funding. The federal government allocated an extra $22 million to Centro over the last two years. 

“That really historically has been the biggest challenge for us. But we believe now that we have a plan in place that will allow us, from an operational standpoint, to fund BRT for the foreseeable future,” said Steve Koegel, Centro’s vice president of communications and business planning.

Centro will have a few key capital costs as it develops a plan for BRT, including: additional buses and new enhanced bus stops. 

Buying additional buses will take about two years, Koegel said. 

Centro needs about $13 million more than the $22 million it already has to fund BRT. Centro believes it can produce more funding for BRT through money provided by the federal government and through grant programs, Koegel said

A BRT system would likely follow many of the recommendations made by Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council in what it called its “Smart 1” study. 

SMTC recommended a BRT system with two lines: One from Onondaga Community College to Eastwood along the South Avenue corridor, and another from Syracuse University to the North Side. The lines would cross in downtown Syracuse, at Centro’s hub. 

Centro will likely have buses driven on roads alongside car traffic. The Smart 1 study evaluated options that included creating separate bus lanes. 

Each BRT stop would have a bus arrive in 10- to 15-minute intervals to create regular service and decrease reliance on bus schedules. 

“Our focus is on frequency on our busiest routes,” Koegel said. “That’s something we need to improve: frequency, frequency, frequency.” 

The next step for Centro will be engaging community members about what they want to see from the organization, Koegel said. 

Through the late spring, Centro plans to send representatives to events to collect information. In the late summer, Centro will set more formal meeting dates to collect more feedback from residents. 

“We’re going to be at Winterfest, probably at OCC, some other locations where we can get a good mix of riders and non-riders,” Koegel said. “The goal is not to just maintain the existing ridership but to grow it and make it more attractive to non-users.” 

REad more

Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.