Restarted bus service will be limited

SARANAC LAKE — Franklin County announced Friday that its Public Transportation department will reopen bus routes with limited service starting Monday, June 29 in the Tri-Lakes area and Malone.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began three months ago, the county has only done public transportation for medical calls, which were dispatched by its Emergency Operations Center, or for commuters between Malone and Plattsburgh, according to county Manager Donna Kissane. County Public Transportation even sometimes delivered groceries to people’s homes, she added. Now, the department plans to ramp up service, though not yet to what it was before mid-March.

To schedule a ride, call the bus dispatch center at 518-483-9000 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Friday — although it won’t start taking calls until Thursday, June 25.

Lake Placid, in Essex County, will be included in the Saranac Lake bus service, Kissane said. The buses are used by people commuting to work at Lake Placid’s many tourist businesses, but for now, they will only be able to get to Lake Placid from Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake — not from Malone, where quite a few of Lake Placid’s restaurant and hotel workers live.

Like before, you can’t just wait at a bus stop to get a ride. But now when you call ahead and schedule one, you’ll have to do so more than 24 hours in advance, and it will only be allowed if it’s for a purpose the county considers “essential.” That includes work, groceries, prescriptions and doctor’s appointments, according to Kissane. There will be no designated stops.

Hours and days are limited, too. Buses will only run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday in Tupper Lake and Malone. In Saranac Lake and Lake Placid it will be from Monday to Thursday.

There will also be a bus route through all three Tri-Lakes villages. Kissane forwarded the following statement she received from the county Public Transportation department:

“The run is modified from the original of two drivers down to one driver for now. The run will go from Tupper Lake at 8:15 am thru Saranac Lake to Lake Placid with trips between Lake Placid & Saranac Lake. The run will then leave Lake Placid at 12:30 pm to return Tupper Lake with pickups in Saranac Lake, with Tupper Demand runs to finish shift until 3:45pm. That gives the driver time to clean and disinfect the bus along with necessary paperwork.”

Masks and social distancing will be mandatory.

“Seating capacity will be reduced by 50%, in accordance with social distancing restrictions, so riders MUST call 24 hours in advance to reserve a ride,” Kissane wrote in a press release Friday. “All passengers must wear a mask.”

Despite all the limitations, this is fantastic news to many people, such as old people who don’t drive anymore.

“Oh, it’s wonderful,” said Mary Buckley, who lives in the DeChantal Apartments high-rise in Saranac Lake. “It’s my independence.”

She said she usually rode the Franklin County bus three to four times a week before the pandemic. She said people have been very kind in giving her rides for the last three months, but it’s a burden on her friends to call them every time she needs to go shopping or to a doctor’s appointment.

“It’s really a necessity for us,” she said of the buses. “I’m happy to have it back, and anything they can do for us is appreciated.”

Franklin County bus ridership has increased significantly over the last three years, Transportation Coordinator Thomas McLane told the county Board of Legislators in early March, a week before COVID-19 started showing up locally and county buses and offices were closed. He told the board the bus system was “bursting at the seams.”

In addition to driving people in and around each of the county’s three villages on weekdays, the county runs commuter bus routes taking people to work in Lake Placid and Plattsburgh. These normally run seven days a week, as does the “ADK route” between the north and south ends of the county. Some routes began service as early as 5 a.m. and ended for the night as late as 1 a.m.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said bus service is set to restart July 29; it is June 29.)