The Centre Area Transportation Authority will make several changes to services as part of a plan to maximize resources while mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 this fall, according to a news release on Friday.
As a result, the Blue Loop and White Loop, which Penn State contracts for on-campus bus service, will not operate during the fall service period that begins Aug. 22. The Red Link and Green Link will continue to operate, with some additional service for the Green Link.
According to CATA, suspending the Loop services will help in reallocating resources to high-density community bus services and reducing passenger loads on individual buses in the interest of promoting physical distancing. Students, faculty and staff living close to campus are encouraged to walk or bike whenever possible.
“The challenge for CATA is to find ways to maximize our resources in such a way as to best serve the community while helping to keep it as safe as possible,” CATA CEO Louwana Oliva said in a release. “Given existing capacity and space limitations that may not always allow for ideal physical distancing practices, working with health officials, we determined that the most effective mitigation process will rely on the protocols we’ve established, and to keep passenger flow moving to reduce density at bus stops and other areas.”
No CATA transit services will operate on Sunday. For Monday through Saturday, all CATA service will begin at 6 a.m. each day, and no service will operate after 12:30 a.m., with reduced service from 10 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Reduced service hours are meant to conserve resources for high-demand periods, according to CATA.
Individuals who will be significantly impacted by the changes should contact CATA at (814) 238-2282 to discuss specific needs.
CATA is budgeted for more than 70 buses and a team of 130 operators.
As full service begins on Aug. 22, the authority will monitor service demand and if it is lower than anticipated in some areas, resources will shift to areas of greater need to further the ability for passengers to physically distance.
"This could lead to restoration of some services that have been eliminated, and will be prioritized by need," the release said. "At the same time, should community conditions change due to the pandemic, it is also possible that further service reductions could be required."
For safety protocols, passengers will be required to comply with the Pennsylvania Department of Health mandate to wear face coverings on public transit and adhere to physical distancing guidelines.
Buses will have on-board hand sanitizing stations, and passengers are encouraged to use digital tools such as the CATA Bus Locator and MyStop app for real-time route information.
"This will contribute to the larger effort to reduce wait and transit times for passengers," the release said. "Compressing transit times helps reduce risks associated with longer wait periods in densely populated areas and confined spaces."
A passenger education program will remind riders to comply with the face-covering mandate, wash hands before and after riding, avoid unnecessary talking to mitigate the potential spread of droplets that transmit COVID-19, physically distance whenever possible, and to try to take transit trips during low-volume periods to reduce density on buses.
CATA also instituted daily safety and prevention protocols for drivers, who undergo temperature checks and health screenings before each shift, are required to wear masks, and are separated by a movable plastic barrier.
A daily schedule of disinfecting all vehicles includes industrial electrostatic cleaning and sanitization.
CATA Ride, which provides paratransit for older adults and people with disabilities, and the CATA Go microtransit service will have the same safety protocols as general bus service, with special protocols for smaller vehicles and customized services.
“Oftentimes CATA Ride bus operators must offer additional assistance for some passengers,” Oliva said. “While helping passengers access the vehicle or in helping them secure their wheelchairs can make physical distancing impossible, operators have been trained in the proper use of face coverings for both operators and passengers, the need to minimize conversation while in close proximity, and to keep close proximity brief.”
CATA developed its plan in coordination with the state health department and in accordance with federal guidelines.
“As Penn State University and the Centre Region move forward together to work to create a safe and healthy atmosphere for everyone, we at CATA have worked to identify every resource at our disposal to ensure the most safe and smooth service for our passengers,” Oliva said. “While we are confident that our plan is in keeping with all current state and federal health guidelines and mandates, the success of our plan is dependent on everyone sharing responsibility to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
Route information and updates are available at catabus.com.
Though CATA has not collected fares since March to reduce interactions and the potential for spread of COVID-19, the authority previously announced that it would resume fare collection on Aug. 1. CATA Bus, Ride and Go services will have a 10 percent increase in fare price — the first increase since 2017 — with bus fare going from $2 to $2.20.