Our video shows why transit matters to all of us in rural Pennsylvania.

 

Watch this new video short about ATA and its partners in rural transit.

In the mid1970s, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted the Rural Public Transportation Operating Assistance Program in response to a need for affordable public transportation for the Commonwealth’s rural citizens.

The question, “Is there a mobility problem in rural Pennsylvania?” was asked in 1975 and the answer was “yes”.

 

In Pennsylvania, public transportation in rural communities is a vital component of ensuring access to employment, medical, recreational and social services for all residents.  Pennsylvania has long been recognized as a leader in public transportation with significant investments of public funds to ensure the continuation of services in both urban and rural areas.

 

In rural communities, the poor, elderly and disabled, are among the nation’s most isolated citizens, and transportation disadvantaged. The highest concentrations of seniors and disabled individuals in the Commonwealth reside in rural areas. Senior citizens make up around 44% of all transit riders in rural Pennsylvania and over 17% of the rural population is disabled.

 

For many of them, public transit is the only means of access to their jobs as owning and operating a vehicle is not economically viable.

 

People who live in more rural areas need the same types of services as those in urban areas. Our local rural transportation systems are people-oriented, which are systems built around every day human needs such as medical care, shopping, employment and educational opportunities, social services and visiting friends and family.

 

Rural isolation can result in missed healthcare appointments, missed or delayed use of needed medications both of which can have negative consequences for managing health conditions and quality of life.

 

Long distances are a key barrier for many people living in rural areas. Average trips for medical or dental services are about 9 miles longer in rural regions. Some trips can be in excess of 50 miles one way to reach a more urban center for medical services.

On May 19th, 1976, the Area Transportation Authority of North Central Pennsylvania also known as ATA (pronounced A-T-A) became the first regional, rural transportation authority in Pennsylvania by receiving the first rural transit operating grant in the state. ATA became a model that was copied as the first rural transportation systems multiplied across America. The Crawford Area Transportation Authority along with the Indiana County Transit Authority were chartered in 1979. CATA has twice been recognized by the Federal Transit Administration with the FTA Administrator’s Award for Outstanding Public Service, an award that recognizes 5 rural public transportation providers across the nation every other year. IndiGO has proven its ability to look forward by adopting CNG as it fuel of choice nearly 20 years ago saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel costs and reducing their carbon footprint.

 

ATA, CATA, and IndiGO span across 10 counties covering 8,223 square miles, which serves a population of 477,742 residents.  Services offered include fixed routes, fixed-routes with deviation, and demand response routes.

 

The services provided are supported through a variety of Pennsylvania state and federal funding programs.  

 

The Pennsylvania Lottery provides fare reimbursement at 85% of the approved general public fare to the Shared Ride Program for senior citizens and persons with disabilities.  Act 89 of 2013 reinforced funding for mass transit to provide dedicated funding for fixed route operations in both urban and rural areas. Funding from the PA Lottery and Act 89 are crucial for rural areas to maintain affordable services for the general public.

 

In 1983, officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW), including the Secretary of Welfare, became aware that they had little control over transportation spending within the Medicaid program. DPW had no control over the quality or safety of the trips. The Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) was devised to handle those issues.  DPW made the decision to allow transit providers to design a system that would serve their recipients, and to make it work using existing transit providers.”

 

Investments in public transportation expands ridership in the community that may have never tried public transportation.  Local partnerships have been built with local colleges and universities, businesses, and medical facilities.

 

Local College and University partnerships include transportation for students attending Clarion University, Pitt at Bradford and Indiana University Punxsutawney Campus provided by ATA.  CATA maintains a relationship with Allegheny College students and IndiGo transports Indiana University main campus students.

 

An example of a medical partnership, includes the creation of “Life Line” services, which have been built and supported by CATA along with local hospitals and non-profit agencies.  “Life Line” services offer regional fixed route transportation between rural communities in Crawford County access to medical, recreational and social service agencies based in Meadville.

 

IndiGO offers transportation for Indiana County citizens to the Pittsburgh area on Thursdays for medical appointments.  This helps local Senior Citizens with transportation to any area of the city to alleviate driving in Pittsburgh traffic.

 

Business partnerships like ATA’s VanpoolAdvantage Program coordinates travel for commuters with the Transit Authority of Warren County. Vanpool riders share their ride to work with at least 7 other people who are traveling 20 miles or more to reach their jobs.  They save money on the cost of their commute. Some employers offer a $240 federal pre-tax benefit for vanpooling. The ATA vanpool has been in operation for 4 years.

 

One way Pennsylvania remains a leader in rural public transportation is through the implementation and utilization of technology.  ATA, CATA, and IndiGO strive to be on the cutting edge of advancements in technology to improve access to public transportation, have better, more reliable data for decision making, and to be better stewards of public funds.  ATA, CATA, and IndiGO currently utilize the Bureau of Public Transit’s state-wide investment in transportation technology for shared ride services. This software utilizes location based technology and on-board mobile data terminals to allow for efficient shared ride trip reservations, scheduling, and dispatch.  This technology provides rural transit agencies the ability to monitor service delivery in real time and is building a database of information that can be used to improve services. ATA, CATA, and IndiGO will be implementing the second phase of the state-wide transit technology initiative for fixed route services in the near future. The fixed route technology helps collect ridership and route performance information, as well as, helping passengers get access to route information through automated stop announcements and external bus signage.

 

Passengers are able to access transit information from an app on their desktop, mobile phone, or tablet. These technologies improve the efficiency of operations, the riding experience for our passengers, and hopefully will attract more passengers to public transit.

Having an effective and efficient maintenance program is key for rural transit and a priority set by ATA, CATA and IndiGO.  

 

Preventative maintenance is the backbone of maintenance programs.  Through the use of technology, technicians have access to a robust fleet management system to track vehicle performance, timely completion of preventative services, and control inventory. Having safe and reliable vehicles for our communities is a must and rural transit delivers on that commitment.

 

ATA, CATA, and IndiGO are all members of a statewide insurance pool of 22 Pennsylvania Public Transit Authorities, which is guided by a board of directors that mandate safety standards and focuses on risk management.  Participation in the insurance pool provides significant cost savings versus purchasing insurances individually on the private market.

 

The PennDOT Bureau of Public Transportation is currently in the deployment phase of the P3 Public Private Partnership for the opening of Compressed Natural Gas vehicle stations on transit authority property across the Commonwealth.  Both IndiGO and CATA have CNG stations and vehicles operating in fixed route service. ATA is currently pursuing the P3 project as well.

 

So you see, it’s more than funding, history or geography that makes public transportation thrive in Pennsylvania. It’s the people of public transportation that are the heart of the matter.  We as managers and advocates of rural public transportation strive to be the best public servants in order to efficiently ensure the needs are met for our residents to remain independent, maintain the best quality of life and have the ability to grow and prosper in our local communities.

 

Without adequate funding for public transportation, our residents’ needs are replaced with lost productivity due to longer commute times, customers that cannot reach stores and businesses, missed medical appointments, missed employment and educational opportunities, and several other essential needs.

 

Mobility equals freedom, and provides opportunity for greater choices in the community, more options for jobs, schools, healthcare, entertainment and amenities that are essential factors to a person’s quality of life.