This is a first-person account written by Central Current reporter Yolanda Stewart about using the bus as a person who is new to Syracuse.
I moved to Syracuse two months ago from New York City without a car, making public transportation one of my primary options to get groceries, go out and other needs.
I intended to rely on Centro and quickly learned of its inconveniences: unreliable departure times, all-cash payment methods, and limited routes.
Central Current’s transportation week series was my introduction to navigating the buses, learning the bus schedules, and hearing about the Central New Yorkers’ experiences riding Centro. It was a rude awakening coming from New York City, where buses run more frequently, more reliably and with digitized signs marking departure and arrival times.
The lack of reliability and frequency means I have to plan extensively around the bus’ schedule, making buying groceries more of a task.
For the first time since moving to Syracuse, I recently used a Centro bus to make a store run. Unlike many of the people I surveyed, I didn’t have to factor in a commute to the downtown Centro hub to get to Target. I was fortunate enough to have a bus stop near my apartment.
After hearing other riders’ stories about the unreliability of Centro app’s, I didn’t download it. Instead I used Google maps, which shows Centro’s schedule to figure out the bus’ schedule. Although I arrived at the bus stop a few minutes before the scheduled time, I feared that I had missed my bus.
Subways and buses in New York run frequently, so I don’t have to worry too much about missing a bus or train.
The frequency of the transportation allowed me to accomplish more tasks throughout my day without a fear that I wouldn’t make it where I was headed or home at a decent time.
This is not to say delays or issues don’t happen in New York because they do, however, there’s always a possibility to connect to another train or bus to continue my trip.
While living in Syracuse, I’ve learned the public transit system is not as connective. The downtown hub seems to be the designated place where most people walk to catch a bus. This is challenging for so many people, including me, because it limits where they can easily go. In contrast, the MTA system is designed in a way which allows riders to have access to multiple trains or transfer to their desired train at certain train stops.
The method of paying the fare has also proven to be a barrier: Centro requires cash payments. I rarely carry cash — and the need to pay with cash has often discouraged me from taking the bus.
MTA created several ways for riders to pay: refillable cashless cards (metrocards) or OMNY, a digitized version of the rider’s debit card on their phone or watch. Riders don’t have to rely on cash to commute.
The Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road systems offer apps and have QR codes for conductors to verify passengers’ purchased trips.
The ride to Target in Fayetteville was quick. The bus driver took Interstate 690 and made over 10 stops in 20 minutes. There were only three riders, including myself, on the bus.
There weren’t many other locations for bus drop-off and pick-up services. Seemingly this was the only one in the plaza among the expansive parking lot. The ride back went about as smoothly as the ride to Target.
Accessing places outside downtown Syracuse are not as easy by bus.
While taking the bus was quick and relatively easy once I was on it, it seems limiting as a tool for those who want to explore Syracuse.
The lack of frequency and difficulty of use made me feel rushed and uncertain in a region I’m still discovering.
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Riders had one glaring issue with Centro’s service: infrequent bus schedules create slack time in their day.
Anne Childress, a grants coordinator at OCC, said delays and misaligned routes also create issues for her.
Centro bus drivers like Albert Anderson are trying to make sure riders get where they need to go.
Centro rider Caitlyn Wesolowski said she wishes there were more routes to Onondaga County parks.
China Boone often has to wait an hour at the Centro hub to catch a bus home from work.
Centro rider Wendy Cilbrith said buses do not run frequent enough on her route to work.
Joy said she likes the service Centro provides but would improve timeliness and ride pass options.
Read more from Central Current’s weeklong series on transportation.