Public transit funding and ridership declining across the Midstate

Investigations

Across Central Pennsylvania, public transportation is decreasing. 

“Ridership is down a little bit, but it’s pretty steady compared to what we’ve seen across the country,” said Richard Farr, executive director of Capital Area Transit and Rabbitransit.

CAT, Rabbitransit, and Red Rose Transit are all seeing a decrease in riders.

“Part of the reason for the drop in ridership is that the price of gasoline over the last few years has dropped dramatically from where it used to be at $3.50 per gallon, and that does have an effect on ridership,” said Dave Kilmer, executive director of Red Rose Transit. “We have also seen that while the economy has been fairly good, it did not necessarily result in more jobs, particularly entry-level jobs that tend to ride the bus more.”

CAT is working to attract new riders by using new age technology like mobile ticketing and new fare boxes. However, a dark clod is hanging over transportation funds. A lawsuit filed against the Pennsylvania Turnpike could impact how public transit operates.

“There’s about $450 million a year that comes from the Turnpike historically to PennDOT to support public transportation. $25 million of that is for operating,” said Farr.

For the first time since 2007, CAT will see a decrease in funding. The organization says that could result in fare increases or route changes.

“Are we going to the right places? Are we going there at the right times? So, we’re working through that,” said Farr.

CAT is also anticipating a decrease in funding for its capital project, which is a long-term plan to upgrade the decades-old operation. 

“I can take you out and show you the bus barns, which were the trolley barns. How do we modernize those to use new technology to use compressed natural gas or electric buses? We need to be moving in that direction and this facility cannot support any of that. The infrastructure just doesn’t allow for that,” said Farr.

CAT is working with PennDOT to review its routes and fares. Rabbitransit has a new shared ride service, similar to Uber, to help attract riders.

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