Centre Area Transportation Authority further details ‘aggressive’ service expansion options

The Centre Area Transportation Authority’s universal access study is moving closer to the finish line.

The Centre Region Council of Governments Transportation and Land Use Committee heard the seventh report on the study Monday, focusing on financial implications, the cost-benefit analysis of any potential changes and a timetable for the completion of the study.

The study is taking a look at ways for CATA to expand its services from possible group bulk rates to the most aggressive change, a fare-free model.

“As you get more aggressive with the scenarios, the costs tend to rise,” said Greg Kausch, Centre Region Planning Agency senior transportation planner.

The two most aggressive changes, a fare-free system and a university-based system with no fares for university-affiliated transportation, would affect CATA with $11.7 million in capital costs such as additional buses and $3.6 million and $3.3 million in increased operating expenses, respectively.

Kausch emphasized that the program would not be completely fare-free; it would just have no upfront costs for riders getting onto the buses. CATA would recoup costs through apartment pass contracts, Penn State funds, possible neighborhood contracts, employer contributions, increased funding from municipalities, PennDOT funds from increased ridership and rental permit fees.

He added that the increased number of buses on the road could cause some traffic problems on major streets such as College Avenue and Atherton Street, but the effect on most streets would be minimal.

No action has been taken on the study. It has just been information about the possibility of changes and was funded by a state grant.

Committee Chairman Jeff Luck said he would like to see CATA move to a system that charges riders by miles traveled, rather than a flat fee for all trips.

“I’ve become convinced more than ever that a ‘tap-on, tap-off’ model for fares is something CATA should aggressively move to,” he said.

Another presentation will be made to the COG General Forum at a meeting later this month, and a final report and implementation plan will be ready in August.