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CATA Planning Route Changes, Bellefonte 'Microtransit' Pilot

by on August 14, 2019 5:00 AM

With a growing area to serve and limited resources, CATA is planning new approaches to some lower ridership areas, including route changes and a Bellefonte area "microtransit" pilot project.

Louwana Oliva, CATA general manager, told State College Borough Council on Monday that the transportation authority "recognized the growth here in our region would probably outstrip funding and resources." Though state Act 89 funding has allowed CATA to replace aging vehicles in its fleet, she said it hasn't been able to increase the fleet's size, even as the county's population grows.

As part of CATA's strategic planning to serve the area more efficiently, routes were studied to look a segments serving lower population areas to see if there were other ways to provide service or if segments should be eliminated.

Among the determinations from that study, service to a segment of the G route that runs between Geisinger Gray's Woods and Halfmoon Township will end sometime this fiscal year. That segment has existed for about 12 years and, despite marketing and other efforts to boost passengers, was found to have very low ridership, with an average of just 6.5 passengers combined on two morning routes. 

"When we started looking at the study we determined that it’s actually costing us about $50 per passenger along that route segment. Our overall cost per passenger is closer to about $3," Oliva said. "The segment adds about 30 minutes to that route and makes up about half the cost of that route."

The G Route between State College and Gray's Woods, however, will continue.

"Originally we were looking at,should we eliminate the entire G route, because when you get into a certain portion of Atherton it follows the same path as other routes," Oliva said. "But what we found is in the Geisinger Gray's Woods area and before you get to Atherton there were pockets of ridership there we just couldn’t serve with other routes. We tried to figure out if there was a way we could loop one of the other routes around and we could not."

Microtransit Pilot

CATA also studied the XB and XG Routes, which serve the Bellefonte and Pleasant Gap areas and which cost the authority about $1.1 million per year. The XB Route runs through Bellefonte and into State College while the XG goes through part of Bellefonte and Pleasant Gap before arriving in State College.

The goal of the routes was to help people get from Pleasant Gap to Bellefonte as well as State College, but the study found most Pleasant Gap riders were traveling directly to and from State College. Bellefonte riders, meanwhile, use the buses to circulate around Bellefonte as well as get into State College. A consultant recommended splitting the two routes, making XG a commuter route and evaluating a combination of options for the XB route.

In January, Oliva said, CATA will participate in a pilot program for microtransit in Bellefonte. Functioning somewhat like Uber or Lyft, passengers will be able to schedule new CATA Go van rides throughout a Bellefonte microtransit zone by using a website, smartphone app or by calling CATA. Unlike the CATA Ride service, rides do not need to be scheduled a day in advance and passengers will be given an estimated time of pickup, which Oliva said will hopefully be within about 15 minutes.

The planned microtransit zone for CATA Go service in Bellefonte. Image by CATA via C-NET

CATA will be one of 40 community transit services to participate in the pilot through TransLoc, which is owned by Ford Motor Company. TransLoc will provide four vans, with the expectation that two will be needed at the start of the pilot.

Riders can also schedule to be dropped off at one of three anchor spots in State College where they can further connect to fixed-route service — at the the Benner Pike Walmart, Mount Nittany Medical Center and on the Penn State campus.

Vans will accept the same forms of payment as fixed-route buses and will be able to accommodate two wheelchairs at a time. They will operate the same hours as fixed route buses but will be available at greater frequencies. Oliva said that drivers will have tablets that receive passenger pickup information and if the driver is stuck in traffic and running late, the system will shift future scheduled passengers to other available vehicles.

For the first six to eight months of the pilot, CATA will study the microtransit use and current fixed route service to Bellefonte and Pleasant Gap will remain. Around August 2020, CATA will reduce some fixed route service to Bellefonte and separate the XG route to a direct commuter route between Pleasant Gap and State College. CATA also will study whether microtransit can replace fixed-route service in Bellefonte entirely. 

"One of the things we want to figure out is microtransit, can it stand on its own or does it need to be supported by some level of a commuter route, something going back and forth?" Oliva said.

Unlike CATA's buses, which are fueled by compressed natural gas, the CATA Go vans will be gasoline-fueled. 

"Because of the smaller vehicles its harder to do a CNG," Oliva said. "The tanks take up a lot of room and you can’t get as far without refueling."

She said she's not sure of the difference in emissions between CATA's CNG buses and the CATA Go vans, but noted that the vans are much smaller and that they will try to capitalize on carrying as many passengers as possible at a time.

“We’re excited to be part of the pilot and to be trying this, to be one of 40 cities to try this,” Oliva said.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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