Monday, June 14, 2021

CATA looks for change to continue bus operations

STATE COLLEGE — With ridership still down because of the pandemic, the Centre Area Transportation

Authority is proposing a number of service changes to go into effect this fall.

During a public hearing on June 9, the transit system explained the changes and heard from the public as it moves to finalize the changes.

“CATA has always been very proud that we brought in a lot of our own money. It is very typical that transit systems only bring in 15 to 20 percent of their own funding and the rest comes from state and federal sources. Prior to the pandemic, CATA was bringing in 46 percent of our own money. That has allowed us to grow the system and serve more people. … As with a lot of things during the pandemic, there has been a contraction of ridership, etc., going on,” said Kimberly Fragola, CATA assistant executive director of operations.

The system has recovered only to about 12 percent of its pre-pandemic ridership levels, “so that is extremely low. Similarly, the money that we bring in ourselves is only at about 10 percent. So we are struggling and I am only offering that as some of the reasoning. We are reducing some service in areas, changing it in others, but this is the context for that. We are really just trying to look at the long-term survival of the agency.”

Fragola said that while the system has received some stimulus money, it has not been enough to overcome the losses.

“Our operating budget every year is about $20 million. We did receive stimulus money of about $20-plus million. What that has allowed us to do is keep the doors open this year and it is going to help us get through the coming years. The predictions for the transit industry is that ridership won’t return to normal for maybe three or four years. So, we are trying to weather that storm until things are normal again,” said Fragola.

If adopted, the proposed changes would go into effect on Aug. 21.

The changes would include a reduction of service hours with CATA no longer operating after 12:30 a.m. any day of the week. The plan does include bringing back Sunday service in some form.

“There will be some adjustment to the frequency, but we figure some level of Sunday service is obviously better than none,” said Chris Jordan, CATA director of service planning.

There would no longer be service on Labor Day and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, with the exception of the CATARIDE service, which would provide only life-sustaining trips.

“We are trying to make adjustments that hopefully affect the least amount of people and can save us some money,” said Jordan.

The A (Park Forest Village), F (Pine Grove Mills), G (Gray’s Woods) and S (Science Park) routes all were originally proposed to be temporarily discontinued through the fall, but after hearing from the public, CATA decided to reinstate the A route with a slight reduction in service, said Jordan. The F, G and S routes will remain on hold due to low ridership during the pandemic.

“Even prior to the pandemic, these were the three routes that were less productive than the others,” said Jordan.

Under the proposal, the B (Boalsburg), C (Houserville), XB (Bellefonte) and XG (Pleasant Gap) routes — all of which currently are temporarily discontinued — would be eliminated.

Bus service traditionally provided by the B route and a portion of the P (Tussey Mountain) route in Boalsburg would now be provided by the on-demand CATAGO! service, which would connect with the P route in Scenery Park and provide service to the Medical Sciences Building and Mount Nittany Medical Center.

“It gives more service to the Boalsburg area, rather than what our bus route used to be doing. Given the success we have seen in Bellefonte, we believe this here will be an added benefit to Boalsburg and even some of the businesses in Boalsburg, such as we have seen in Bellefonte,” said Derek Sherman, assistant ADA and on-demand operations manager.

CATAGO! would continue on a pilot basis to service the Bellefonte and Pleasant Gap communities with modification in destination points outside the zone. Those traveling from the Bellefonte and Pleasant Gap areas would need to schedule a CATAGO! trip to the Rutter’s area — specific stops to be determined — and transfer to a new pilot commuter express route that would operate from there to campus on Curtin Road at the Stadium West parking lot stop.

Alternatively, riders may travel via CATAGO! to Walmart where they would transfer to the HM route to travel to campus.

CATARide would remain only within three-quarters of a mile of a bus route, with service eliminated to Bellefonte, Pleasant Gap and Boalsburg. Paratransit service may be available through other agencies in these areas.

The P route would end at Scenery Park and service would end earlier, at 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

The A (Park Forest Village), F (Pine Grove Mills), G (Gray’s Woods) and S (Science Park) routes would remain temporarily discontinued through the fall.

A full list of proposed changes is available at catabus.com/proposed-fall-service. CATA is still accepting public feedback concerning the changes.