Ulster County public transportation users will be getting their Christmas wish early this year. For the first time, the UCAT bus loop through area malls will be extending service to weekends from November 24 to December 30 between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
The loop is normally available only on weekdays, but the additional weekend service is expected to ease vehicle congestion along Ulster Avenue, notorious for holiday shopping traffic jams.
“What it does is promote buying local, it reduces our carbon footprint, and eases congestion in an area that you all know gets pretty tough to get around during the holidays,” said Robert DiBella, director of Ulster County Area Transit.
Nine stops along the Mall Area Loop include Hudson Valley Mall Food Court; Wal-mart, Gander Mountain; Burlington; Hannaford; Barns & Noble; Shoprite; and Kohl's plazas, said County Executive Michael Hein.
“It limits congestion, it’s good for the environment and I encourage people to shop locally and what this does is make it even easier for them to do that,” Hein said.
Ulster County Chamber of Commerce President Ward Todd also signed onto the plan.
“We know the cost of gas is going up. We know the difficulty of people have getting around – the crowds and the traffic, the congestion; this just makes it so much easier for people to do their shopping locally and keep local people employed,” Todd said.
Buses leave the Food Court at the top of the hour, returning from the loop on the half hour, then wait 30 minutes for the next departure. The fare is 50 cents per ride. Other bus routes connect to points along the loop from elsewhere.
Hein said the additional service is a direct result of input from the transportation. Last year, the Ulster County Transportation Council initiated a Transit System Coordination and Development Plan, designed to update and validate local needs.
In April, Hein formed the Public Transportation Task Force with a diverse group of stakeholders in order to review UCTC's plan. That task force recommended the extended holiday service to area malls.