CATA to roll out changes, including Lyft-like program, route shifts and service cuts

CATA will launch a pilot program in January that offers on-demand van service between Bellefonte and three anchor points in State College.
CATA will launch a pilot program in January that offers on-demand van service between Bellefonte and three anchor points in State College. Centre Daily Times, file

Centre Area Transit Authority is taking part in a pilot program that will offer “micro-transit” van service between Bellefonte and State College by way of the state Route 150 corridor.

That’s one change among several that CATA General Manager Louwana Oliva detailed at Monday night’s State College Borough Council meeting, including cutting part of a low-ridership route in Halfmoon Township and making changes to the XG and XB routes that serve Pleasant Gap and Bellefonte.

“The (CATA) board had definitely recognized ... that the growth here in our region would probably outstrip funding and resources,” Oliva told the council.

Through transportation company TransLoc, which was recently purchased by Ford Motor Company, CATA has the opportunity to participate in a pilot program with 39 other cities across the United States called “micro-transit,” which is “somewhat the same as Lyft or Uber,” she said.

The program allows CATA passengers to use van service called GO! to get around Bellefonte and parts of Spring and Benner townships stretching from Zion through the Route 150 corridor. They can also use the vans to travel to three anchor points that link to fixed service routes — the Walmart on Benner Pike, parking lots on Penn State’s campus that link to the Blue Loop and Red Line and Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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A map of the zone where CATA riders can access unlimited van service and three anchor points that connect to other fixed routes. Map provided by CATA

“A lot of what we hear from the residents in Bellefonte is the need to reach medical care and medical services,” said Oliva.

The pilot program will start Jan. 11, 2020, said CATA Public Relations Specialist Jackie Sheader.

Riders will be able to request same-day service through an app, website or by calling CATA, said Oliva. Four vans will be in use for the pilot, but CATA may add more, she said.

Part of the incentive behind the program’s rollout is finding out “if we can replace inefficient fixed route service,” she said.

CATA is also considering changes to the XG (Pleasant Gap-Bellefonte-State College) and XB (Bellefonte-State College) routes, based on a study of passenger behavior, said Oliva.

The study revealed that passengers use the XG primarily to travel between Pleasant Gap and State College, and use the XB mostly to travel within Bellefonte, she said. Based on that information, CATA wants to transition the XG to a commuter route from Pleasant Gap to State College, and the XB to a Bellefonte circulator and commuter route to State College.

“We feel strongly that (Bellefonte) is an area that needs to be served,” said Oliva, due to its location as the county seat and a hub for resources.

For about 6-8 months starting in January 2020, said Oliva, CATA will run the GO! pilot program with regular fixed route service in Bellefonte and Spring and Benner townships while monitoring ridership data.

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A view of the CATA GO! vans that are rolling out in January. Photo provided by CATA

If all goes well, she said, the program will enter a second phase in August 2020, where fixed route service on the XG and XB will most likely be pulled back. CATA will also look at combining micro-transit with CATARIDE, a ride service for people with disabilities and older adults.

In another cost-saving measure, CATA will be cutting service this fiscal year to a low ridership portion of the G route that runs from Geisinger Grays Woods through Halfmoon Township.

Through a study that sought better ways to serve low ridership areas on CATA’s service routes, Oliva said the authority found that segment didn’t have enough ridership — an average of 6.5 trips in the morning — to sustain the cost, which worked out to be around $50 per passenger. Average passenger cost for other routes is about $3, she said.

Initially, CATA considered eliminating the entire G route since parts of it are duplicated in other routes, she said, but ultimately decided to keep it since there were enough ridership pockets between Geisinger Grays Woods and Atherton Street that could not be served by other routes.

Since Halfmoon Township is a contracted municipality for CATA, the $7,291 it pays for service per year will be absorbed among the rest of the CATA partners, resulting in a slight bump for local matches next year, Oliva said.

Sheader said the authority will announce public hearings on the G route cut before the change goes into effect.