“I’m really, really pleased about it,” McDonald said. “I just hope everyone rides it.”
The new Clearfield-Centre Connector is a service of the Area Transportation Authority of North Central Pennsylvania and the Centre Area Transportation Authority, and has been in the works for nearly three years.
The service begins Wednesday, Jan. 2, and riders can try the commute for free through Friday, Jan. 18.
“We did surveys over the past two years, mostly online, getting a sense of where the passengers are and where the interest lies,” said John Lacny, ATA director of marketing and communications. “There’s considerable data showing there’s certainly an economic exchange between Clearfield and Centre counties. People traverse the counties to get to work in both directions.”
Workflow data from the 2000 U.S. census, the latest available, show that 1,029 people traveled daily from Centre to Clearfield and 4,773 traveled from Clearfield to Centre.
Greg Kausch, a Centre Region and CATA transportation planner, said a park-and-ride study in the mid-1990s showed the Cold Stream Dam outside of Philipsburg was a potential lot location. That site will be one of the new connector stops.
“We knew this was a particular area of concern,” Kausch said. “We have half-a-dozen vanpool groups that are operating out of the Moshannon Valley currently, and numerous carpool groups that operate out of the area.”
The connector will make two morning and two evening trips. The morning routes will begin at the Hyde Park and Ride — at the Lawrence Township building, 45 George St. — at 5:24 and 6:24 a.m., and end at the Pattee Transit Center westbound on Penn State’s campus at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m.
The afternoon trip will leave from the Bryce Jordan Center, Stadium West, at 4:15 and 5:15 p.m., ending at the Park and Ride at 5:36 and 6:36 p.m.
The buses will stop at the Clearfield County Courthouse, Irwin Drive in Decatur, the Gaslight Café at 20 W. Presqueisle St. in Philipsburg, the former Philips Hotel at 200 E. Presqueisle, Eighth Avenue and Presqueisle and the Cold Stream Dam. Pattee and the BJC are the route’s two Penn State campus stops.
Round-trip fares are set at daily rates of $10.50 from Clearfield to State College, $6.50 from Philipsburg to State College, and $4 from Clearfield to Philipsburg. Commuters can save by purchasing monthly, quarterly or annual passes. More information is available at ATA’s website, www.rideata.net.
The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization, on which Kausch also sits, is one of many collaborators on the connector project, and McDonald sent the group a letter in October asking why the new service was still delayed after several years of planning.
“I was disappointed on the delay, but I’m very happy it got resolved,” he said. “We put these bus stops up in 2011 because it was supposed to start.”
Kausch said the connector has for years been one of the highest-ranked but unfunded projects in the MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan. He called it a “major win” to finally have a plan in place.
ATA and CATA both applied several times for federal funds specifically for commuting projects allowing job access, then teamed up and finally earned a grant. However, Kausch said they won’t use the funds at this time, because they were to be used for vehicles.
“The service is being started with vehicles provided free of charge by the (state Department of Transportation) Bureau of Public Transportation,” he said. “Right now, we’re doing this with a very austere budget to just see how things work.”
Lacny also said the service has been part of ATA’s long-term vision, and time was needed to negotiate an agreement with CATA, as well as with the team of drivers from Fullington Tours.
“We would’ve liked to start sooner, but it’s a process that requires a lot of patience and a lot of communicating back and forth,” he said. “Now I think we’re ready to go.”