When the weather is too bad to ride his motorcycle to State College, Mike Wilks hops a bus in Philipsburg to get to work. It’s an option that many have been saying was needed for years, but one that’s still finding its feet with new riders.
“I think it’s extremely important. Not everybody has a car. Not everybody wants to pay all the money for gas. The route provides a very important alternative,” said Rush Township Supervisor Michael Savage.
The Clearfield Centre Connector runs from downtown Clearfield to five stops in Philipsburg before dropping off travelers at the Bryce Jordan Center and Pattee Library at University Park. It is operated by the Area Transportation Authority, the agency that provides bus service in six north-central Pennsylvania counties. On the State College end, it partners with Centre Area Transportation Authority.
In September, it was reported that the contract between Clearfield County and ATA was being dropped in the new year, which could threaten the fledgling bus route thatstarted picking up passengers early in 2013 and is still building awareness of its service. However, Clearfield County Commissioner Mark McCracken said that a statement made at a meeting was taken out of context.
“There was no vote. That is premature at this point. There has been no agenda action,” said McCracken. “We are in the process now of getting a meeting with the executive director of ATA. ...We are still working on things.”
The commissioner said he is very excited to see the connector in place.
“I had pushed for that. I had been asking for it for a number of years. I’m very glad that was put in place, and I hope it’s successful,” he said. “I think it’s working out. I’m glad to see it materialize.”
Jacqueline Sheader, marketing manager for CATA, sees the connector as a good partner for her agency’s CATACommute programs.
“We fully support the service in that it provides a much-needed link for those thousands of commuters,” she said. “I don’t necessarily see carpool and vanpool programs operated by CATA and ATA as competition, but rather see those services as being additional options for those commuters. A person that wants to rideshare may feel more comfortable using a regional commuter bus service over a vanpool or vice-versa.”
The timing of the buses can be part of that. Morning routes run west to east only, leaving the Philipsburg area at about 6 and 7 a.m. and arriving in State College about 40 minutes later. Return trips depart at 4:15 and 5:15 p.m. Location can be another factor.
“If someone isn’t on campus, it might not be a great asset. I’ve advocated to the ATA people that they perhaps add the Mount Nittany Medical Center to the route,” said Wilks.
CATA commuter service manager Terri Quici said that’s an easy hurdle.
“We support and integrate any service when needed, such as carpooling to vanpool pickup, then vanpool to downtown, then taking a bus to final destination,” she said.
The price, however, is a selling point for many supporters.
“It’s cheaper than driving, easily,” said Wilks.
Fares run $6.50 round trip for the Philipsburg to State College run. Buying an annual pass for the service can reduce that cost by half.
“The fares are very reasonable,” said Savage.
The route also comes at a time when the state Department of Transportation is trying to work with CATA, Rush and Philipsburg to put an official Park-and-Ride facility at Cold Stream Dam to accommodate carpoolers, vanpoolers and possibly a shelter for the bus route.
At the September meeting, the Philipsburg Borough Council discussed setting up a meeting with Rush supervisors to discuss the agreement for maintenance of that potential site. PennDOT wants that agreement in place before proceeding with planning.
But still, the route is trying to find its place with riders.
“I know that ATA has been advertising it, doing public outreach to make people aware,” said McCracken.
“It took a lot of work from a lot of different people to get the route started,” said Savage. “We’re all working hard to get the word out.”