By Donna Thompson

It’s not easy to manage without a car in a rural community.

However, Little Falls residents who want to travel to Utica or villages between the two cities have a public transit option provided by the Birnie Bus Service.

The schedule on the Birnie Bus website (https://www.birniebus.com) shows pickups for the westbound Little Falls to Utica routes at 5:40 a.m., 7:18 a.m., 7:51 a.m., 10:25 a.m., 11:40 a.m., 2:15 p.m., 4:25 p.m., 6:50 p.m.and 5:10 p.m. at the Best Buy appliance store, 578 East Main St. Little Falls.

The schedule also shows stops in Herkimer, Mohawk, Ilion, and Frankfort en route to Utica. From Utica, passengers can connect with Birnie Bus routes heading to stops in the Utica, Rome and Oneida area and to Syracuse as part of the service’s Four-County Line Run.

Eastbound routes from Utica show stops in Little Falls at 5:40 a.m., 7:18 a.m., 7:51 a.m., 10:25 a.m., 11:05 a.m., 1:50 p.m., 3:50 p.m., 4:45 p.m. and 6:50 p.m. Route 2, which is scheduled to pick up passengers at 8:20 and 11:25 a.m. at Utica’s Union Station, come only as far east as Herkimer.

Because services are paid for through the Federal Transit Administration’s Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program and the New York State Department of Transportation’s Statewide Mass Transportation Operating Assistance, the fares for passengers, which are listed on a chart on the Birnie Bus website, are low. There are discounts for senior citizens, the disabled, and college students with valid identification.

According to some Little Falls residents, the problem is that the buses don’t always arrive on schedule, leaving some potential passengers out in the cold—sometimes literally—for much longer than the 10 minutes they are asked to be at the stop prior to their scheduled pickup.

Ann Anderson has seen some of this firsthand.

“I’ve seen people standing out at Best Buy waiting for the bus for hours in the freezing cold,” she said. “It was one of those times it was 70 degrees one day and 18 the next.”

She thought there should at least be a shelter at the stop.

Anderson said that one time, her grandson was among a group of passengers taking the bus to Little Falls when the driver dropped them off by the Empire Diner in Herkimer and turned the bus around to head west.

“That’s not acceptable,” she said, adding that she was able to go pick up her grandson that day and would have offered a ride to others, but they had left by the time she arrived.

She said she has also had problems getting an answer when she has called the company, although sometimes a phone call has been returned late in the day.

A reporter who called the phone number listed with the schedule was able to connect with Birnie employees but was referred to Paul D’Aiuto, area general manager, for comment. Multiple calls placed to the phone number listed on the Birnie Bus website were not answered, and there was no opportunity to leave a message. Similarly, several emails sent to the contact email address listed were not responded to.

There are some transportation options for people in certain segments of the population.

Catholic Charities of Herkimer County, for example, offers a transportation/companionship program for individuals receiving Medicaid and having gaps in services, and the Herkimer County Office for the Aging offers transportation to senior citizens aged 60 or older within Herkimer County. Reservations are required for these services; those requesting them are advised to plan ahead. The Office for the Aging notes a high demand for rides.

However, public transportation may be the only option for those who don’t have their own vehicle and don’t fit into one of these categories.

When asked about Herkimer County’s involvement in public transportation, County Administrator Jim Wallace said the county serves as a “pass-through” for the state and federal funds that support it.

The Herkimer-Oneida Counties Transportation Study, which developed a study examining the transportation needs of the two-county region for the 20-year period ending in 2040, found that at the time the information was compiled, 11% of the households in the region lacked an automobile. The study called for encouraging more use of public transportation.

Birnie Transit, Inc., which provides management and operating services for multiple public transportation systems throughout Central New York, offers a Dolgeville loop between Little Falls and Dolgeville with limited seating for the duration of the Dolgeville school calendar, according to the website and asks those interested to call for information.

Other services offered with a reservation include route deviation up to three-quarters of a mile from a scheduled stop and a wheelchair-accessible bus, which is available with a  24-hour notice.

Anyone with questions about the schedule or pricing is asked to call Birnie Bus Service at 315-797-4933. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.